Green nod breach may lead to closure

Written by Kirtika Suneja | New Delhi | Updated: Nov 1 2011, 07:04am hrs
After a short period of lenience in allowing coal mining in no-go forest areas, the environment ministry has decided to impose stringent penalties on violators. In a significant move, the ministry has categorised non-compliance with the environment clearance (EC) conditions as serious and not-so-serious across 27 sectors and said that violators of the serious ones would be issued closure orders.

The move will impact projects across sectors mining of minerals and metals, exploration of oil and gas, airports, seaports, highways, cement, steel, thermal and nuclear power and even pesticides. The new policy leaves little room for interpretation and helps avoid cases like Lavasa and Adarsh Housing Society where the ministry and the companies concerned were seen having different views on the compliance level.

At present, failure to comply with EC conditions attracts a penalty of R1 lakh or three years' imprisonment. It is reckoned that these are not an effective deterrent. As per the new policy, state agencies will increase their vigil on non-serious violations.

Under the new categorisation, serious violations are those involving an immediate threat to public life and property. In these cases, 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.

Similarly, pollution abatement technologies, adoption of clean technologies and waste minimisation technologies in developmental projects are items whose violation will be termed 'serious'. The categorisation was proposed by a committee the ministry had set up earlier this year.

So, in the case of mining, serious violations will occur if mining operations are not restricted to above-ground water table and intersects the groundwater table while for nuclear power plants, not complying with continuous on-line monitoring of the temperature of the discharged cooling water will amount to a serious violation.

Interestingly, these strict measures have not evoked the kind of criticism the ministry got when it introduced the 'go, no-go' categorisation for coal projects. The new rules will make us comply more, and ensure that compliance happens regularly. We are seeing it in a positive light rather than an impediment, said the director of an infrastructure company, asking not to be named.

The ministry, while according environmental clearances, generally stipulates two types of conditions specific and general in all categories of projects. While there are changes in the specific conditions from one category of project to other, the general conditions by and large remain the same.

Therefore, the committee decided to categorise general conditions across all projects and specific ones sector-wise. The sectors selected for the categorisation were the same in line of environmental appraisal committees constituted for appraisal of projects for environmental clearance, according to the ministry.

An official of another infrastructure company said the government has now cleared its stance that EC is not an impediment and that firms would now know beforehand that non-compliance is not an option.