The Supreme Court on Monday asked the ministry of environment and forests to set up a national environment regulator with offices in every state to “appraise and monitor” the process for granting green clearances and how the regulations are complied with.
Industry expects the move to make the process, now fraught with uncertainties and huge delays, more transparent and efficient. At present, more than 4,600 proposals are pending with the forest advisory committee (FAC) for final clearance. Seventy-five coal projects are awaiting environmental appraisal committee (EAC) clearance including Neyveli Lignite’s project in Bikaner, while 20 thermal power projects like Tata Power’s two projects in Orissa and Maharashtra are waiting for the final nod. Similarly, there are 122 industrial and 91 mining projects awaiting the EAC nod.
The SC wants the new regulator to be a neutral umpire that would appraise the clearances given by the ministry through its EAC and FAC.
As per an earlier plan by the environment ministry, the two committees were to be subsumed in the regulator which would grant clearances.
“It was felt that the current procedure is inadequate and one more layer of scrutiny was required. The proposed regulator will be the ultimate authority when it comes to clearances over and above the existing regulatory regime. It will comprise members with technical expertise. However, one would have to approach the National Green Tribunal to challenge any clearance or its denial,” said Haris Beeran, a Delhi-based lawyer.
A three-judge green bench of the apex court headed by justice AK Patnaik directed the central government to appoint a regulator with offices in as many states as possible as directed earlier in the case of Lafarge Umiam Mining.
The Centre had also been asked to file an affidavit along with the notification appointing the regulator in compliance of the Monday’s direction by March 31.
Rejecting solicitor general Mohan Parasaran’s argument that the central government alone is the regulator, it said that the present mechanism under the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification of September 2006, “issued by the government with regard to processing, appraisals and approval of the projects for environmental clearance, is deficient