Environment minister Prakash Javadekar, transport minister Nitin Gadkari, power minister Piyush Goyal, and chemicals and fertilisers minister Ananth Kumar have been told to look at long-standing proposals for a regulator and suggest the most viable structure.
The regulator, which will substantially alter environmental governance in the country, will take most of the operational work away from the environment ministry which will then be left with the job of framing policy guidelines. Specifically, the regulator would be tasked with appraising environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for setting up new industries, monitoring the compliance of conditions laid down during the grant of clearance of projects, and prescribing penalties for errant companies.
The proposal is to make the regulatory authority fully autonomous of the environment ministry, administratively, functionally and financially. The authority will employ a body of experts who will work on environment regulation full time. As of now, these jobs are done by ad-hoc committees attached to the ministry of environment and forests, which meet once in a month to clear several, sometimes more than 50, projects in a single day.
There is no real-time monitoring of the compliance of conditions laid down during the clearance of projects because of lack of resources and manpower.
The independent regulator is also supposed to develop its own environment databanks. As of now, the ad-hoc committees of the ministry, while assessing the projects, are forced to take the data provided by the companies in the EIA reports of their projects on their face value as they have no benchmark data to compare these with.
Several different versions of a proposed regulator have been discussed in the last few years. The initial idea was to model it around the US Environment Protection Agency. Another version, developed later, proposed a National Environmental Assessment and Management Authority (NEAMA). However, several disagreements over where such a regulatory authority would be housed and who it would be accountable to have so far kept the proposal from taking off.