Green clearances may be withdrawn for delayed projects: MoEF

Written by Kirtika Suneja | New Delhi | Updated: Dec 21 2011, 07:42am hrs
With India Inc and various government departments blaming the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) for delaying clearances for developmental projects, the ministry has said that the delay is not on its part but on the part of the industry in starting and completing the projects on time.

The ministry has now decided that it will withdraw environmental and forest clearances to the projects that do not commence work within five years of being accorded the approvals.

We have cleared nearly 2 lakh mega watts (mw) of power generation capacity in five years, more than what the 12th and 13th Plans had envisaged. The industry has not utilised much of this and hence, we are thinking of withdrawing the clearances to projects that havent taken off, said a senior environment ministry official.

The ministry has cleared 1.05 million hectare of forest area in the last five years compared with 4.5 million hectare cleared in a span of 10 years before the Forest Conservation Act came into force.

The move assumes significance in the wake of the fact that the planning commission had warned that delayed forest clearance for captive mines could adversely affect development and financing of a large number of power projects.

In a report sent to the Prime Minister, planning commission member (energy) BK Chaturvedi had recommended simultaneous processing for environment and forest clearances to avoid delays.

Ministry officials say once the clearances are cancelled, a lot of environmental space could be saved and the opportunity cost and investment cost could be calculated.

The clearance is given for a period of five years and if the project doesnt start in that time, the proponent will be issued a notice and the clearance would be cancelled on the basis of the explanation, the official added.

However, at present the MoEF is not monitoring the progress of the projects except the six-monthly reports they get from the proponents on compliance with various green norms.

We dont have enough staff to monitor all projects on an on-going basis. Also, the project proponents do not have enough funds to start the project. All these need to be worked out in the course of time, another ministry official added.

In fact, the proposed Environment Appraisal and Monitoring Authority (Neama) is being set up with the intention of carrying out appraisals and monitoring compliance conditions on an ongoing basis, as currently the ministry performs the appraisal and approval of only new projects.

Interestingly, the governments position is corroborated by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) which says that in past five years, till August 2011, the environment ministry had granted environmental clearance for an astounding 210,000 mw of thermal power capacity, in other words, 60,000 mw more than what has been proposed till 2017. However, the capacity actually added is a mere 32,394 mw.

The process of forest and environment clearances is not working as the ministry is giving too many clearances and no forest assessment is being done before granting the green nods, says Sunita Narain, CSEs director general.