Green tape tangles 400 projects

Written by Kirtika Suneja | New Delhi | Updated: Dec 6 2011, 07:10am hrs
Environmental clearance delays are rising again, pushing up the number of pending infrastructure projects. There are now 400 projects in mining, hydro and thermal power, and building and construction pending signatures at different levels in the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF). The figure had eased to 245 in August this year.

Among pending projects, the maximum (209) are in building and construction, followed by mining ((143). The share of thermal power projects comes next at 32 followed by 13 hydro-power projects.

The maximum number of projects awaiting environmental nod are based in Tamil Nadu 106 projects of which 102 are in building and construction. Haryana follows with 90 projects, all in the construction sector. In Jharkhand, Orissa, UP and Rajasthan, mining projects have been held up the most. No projects are pending for the northeastern states of Sikkim and Tripura, showing corporates don't plan mega projects for these states and that smaller projects get cleared faster. Some high-profile projects yet to receive the nod includes Indian Oil's rubber unit at Panipat, Hindalco's proposed modernisation of existing alumina and smelter plant at Renukoot, Dalmia Cements' limestone mine expansion in Tiruchirapalli and Apollo Tyres' thermal power plant in Kancheepuram, among others.

The projects are perceived to be pending for environmental clearance for varying durations, mainly due to non-submission of complete information by the project proponents in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report and environmental management plan (EMP) required for the projects submitted for environmental clearance and non-compliance of the procedures, said environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan.

The EIA requires developmental projects, activities and processes listed therein to obtain prior environmental clearance. Projects which require prior environment clearance broadly include hydroelectric, thermal, nuclear, mining, airports, roads and industrial projects.

Generally, decisions on projects are taken within 105 days of the receipt of complete information, as provided for in the EIA notification, 2006. Of these, 60 days are for appraisal by the ministry's expert appraisal committee (EAC) and 45 days for processing and communicating the decision.

We look at the status of the EC project-wise and consider 15-20 projects in one day. There are 2-3 meetings per month and usually, all projects which come for EC get it except a few who are asked to come again if their information is not complete, explained a senior EAC official.

The ministry recently categorised the non-compliance of the EC conditions as serious and not so serious across 27 sectors like mining, cement plants, nuclear power projects and pesticides, among others and defined what is serious and not so serious non-compliance of EC conditions for each.

Serious violations are those where an immediate threat to public life and property is anticipated and the ministry can order direct closure, prohibition or regulation of any industry, operation or process. These conditions are related to implementation of rehabilitation and resettlement, compensatory afforestation and wildlife management plan.