PSUs also faced environment ministry stonewalling

Written by Sandeep Singh | New Delhi | Updated: Dec 27 2013, 06:07am hrs
PSUsThat the private sector bore the brunt of the tardy pace of environmental clearances may just be half the story.
That the private sector bore the brunt of the tardy pace of environmental clearances may just be half the story. An examination of the list of projects awaiting the nod from the ministry of environment and forests shows that the public sector was also at the receiving end by an equal measure, accounting for close to 50% of the total core sector projects that were stuck for want of the requisite green clearances.

Of a total of 186 core sector projects excluding industrial projects that had applied for clearance between 2011 and 2013, as many as 87 projects, or 47%, belonged to government-owned entities both central PSUs and those owned by the states. If the industrial sector projects, where the number of applications from public sector companies is comparatively much lower than from the private sector, were to be taken into account, the percentage of state-owned projects awaiting environment clearance comes down to 33%.

A look at the year-wise data shows that in 2013, the number of government projects awaiting clearances was actually much higher than the previous years and out of total 73 projects awaiting clearance, 38 belonged to public sector companies, translating into a high 52%.

The National Highways Authority of Indias decision to move the Supreme Court against the environment ministry alleging that the ministrys norms on green clearances were playing havoc with highway development projects clearly reflects the frustration faced by state-owned companies. While the NHAI move marked the first time that a government entity made such a move against another arm of the government, power firms such as transmission firm Power Grid Corporation and hydro utility NHPC were also bogged down by the slack pace of green clearances. This was especially so for linear projects, where clearances were held back for prolonged periods until the government had to step in and issue an order spelling relief for these projects.

On a sectoral basis, the bias against state-owned firms is even more apparent. In coal mining and hydro projects, about 80% of the projects awaiting clearances from the ministry during the three-year period were government-owned entities. While the figure stood at 89% for coal mining project, it was 80% for river valley and hydroelectric projects.

Also, around 49% of projects in the infrastructure and miscellaneous sectors and those falling in the coastal regulatory zone awaiting the ministrys approval are of government companies.

When it comes to the industrial sector, though, only seven of 97 projects awaiting environmental clearance are government ones. This is also a factor of the number of applications from the private sector being much higher.

Data of projects that have received environmental clearance between 2009 and 2013, compiled by The Indian Express, also also reveal a clear trend in the fall in numbers of project approvals over the last three years. While an aggregate of 1,474 projects received the clearance in 2009 and 2010, the number of projects that received the ministrys nod in 2012 and 2013 came down to only 839, a drop of 43%.