Some of the highlights of the Govindarajan committee recommendations and basic reform principles are: decentralising the powers of the Central government; simplifying regulations; bringing transparency in implementation and cutting delays; moving away from command and control to self- regulation, voluntary initiatives and market-based instruments etc.
Given this context, the intentions of the MoEF are indeed laudable. Unfortunately, from the industry and business perspective and also of those wishing to see the speedy implementation of developmental projects, this notification is a half-hearted measure. It may remove undue delays in obtaining clearance at certain stages, but the whole process seemingly will take a longer time.
While there is a welcome attempt to empower states to grant clearance, there doesnt seem to be enough faith in their competence and capabilities, or their agencies and institutions. For example, the notification through General Conditions (GC) seeks to bring all such cases back to the Centre which states would have dealt with otherwise. Even state-level expert appraisal committees are sought to be appointed by the Centre.
There is also a bit of dichotomy. If there isnt enough faith in the states apparatus, how will the states, in the absence of any guidance or clear criteria based rules, fast track clearance by classifying the projects as B-2 As per the notification, category A projects will require prior environmental clearance from the Centre whereas category B projects, excluding those which fulfil the GC, will require prior environmental clearance from the state/UT Environment Impact Assessment Authority. Within category B, projects requiring an EIA report are termed B1 while the remaining projects are termed category B2.
The process of seeking environmental clearance will become more complex through this notification and runs contrary to the objective of simplification. Application form-I, by itself, is too complex. SSI units falling under 44 categories will not even be able to fill this form. SSIs should have been exempted from the rigours of environmental clearance, as is the case at present .
The way the notification is, there doesnt seem to be enough appreciation of the fact that industry and business today are far more proactive on the environment protection front now. Increased uptake of ISO-14001/OSHAS-18001 is one such indicator of their proactiveness, though not the only one. Public pressure, pressure from the judiciary and NGOs, growing competition, shorter product cycles, international market pressures, etc are all driving the industry to keep improving its environmental performance.
And yet, the draft calls for prior environmental clearance, even if you improve productivity, modernise change product-mix and enhance production by even a unit or a ton. Importantly, the 1994 notification does not require product-mix change projects to get environmental clearance and SPCBs can decide on a case to case basis.
However, in the proposed regime, not only are there no lower thresholds in many of the 44 categories as in the case of induction/ arc furnaces, but even the number of categories needing prior clearance has been increased to 44 from 32. The 1994 notification provided the lower threshold in terms of investment and processing capacity and authority to SPCBs to deal with cases. Indeed, all the good attributes of the existing regime have been done away with.
We need to learn from our past experiences. We need to fine-tune the green governance regime and re-engineer it, if needed. But re-engineering in its entirety at the cost of forsaking the evolutionary approach, perhaps was unwarranted. Environmental protec-tion is crucial for all of us. But speedy, inclusive and sustain-able economic growth too is no less important.
The writer is director- general, CII