Skewed environment panels kept green light on amber

Written by Kirtika Suneja | New Delhi | Updated: Dec 24 2013, 19:23pm hrs
Jayanthi NatarajanJayanthi Natarajan
Former environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan may have defended her performance, saying she never delayed clearances to any big-ticket project. However, industry believes the dice were loaded against it. Members of India Inc, on condition of anonymity, told FE that the various panels, appraisal committees and so on formed to examine the projects were packed with people with extreme views relating to environmental matters, thus depriving them of a level playing field.

For instance, the environment ministry had set up an expert committee in October to conduct a detailed study on the impact of hydroelectric power projects, existing and under construction, in the river basins of the Alaknanda, Bhagirathi and their tributaries on environmental degradation. However, an industry association had questioned the composition of the members of the committee, raising issues related to impartial findings. Known environmentalists like Chandi Prasad Bhatt, associated with the Chipko movement, and Ravi Chopra of National Ganga River Basin were heading it.

In November this year, the Indian National Hydropower Association had in a letter to Natarajan expressed its lack of confidence in the body. The chairman and co-chairman of the expert committee constituted by the ministry of environment and forests is Ravi Chopra and Chandi Prasad Bhatt. These two are known to have anti-hydro project views, the association had highlighted.

Of the 17-member committee, only one was from the Central Electricity Authority while the other 16 represented wildlife or environmental bodies.

The Association of Power Producers (APP) had

last month approached Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with a similar complaint, urging him to replace such members in the interest of balanced and unbiased reports.

APPs director general Ashok Khurana in his letter to the PM had said: Past experience has shown us that the committees headed by individuals with a preconceived stated position usually deliver predictable reports, leading to loss of credibility of the entire findings of committees.

The public sector NHPCs 3,000 MW Dibang hydroelectric power project in Arunachal Pradesh has been stuck with the ministry ever since the forest advisory committee in July denied it land on the ground that the large requirement of forest would adversely affect the areas ecosystem. The foundation stone of the project was laid by the PM in 2008. NHPC has now knocked the door of the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure for clearance.

In cases of big-ticket projects like the R50,000-crore steel unit in Orissa by South Korean major Posco, final permits are still awaited, which led the company recently approaching the prime ministers project monitoring group for speedy clearance.

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The project has been languishing since 2007. The clearances granted to it were withdrawn in 2011 and its revalidation is still hanging fire in the National Green Tribunal.

Several projects are stuck for want of timely clearances including the 1,200 MW Mahan project that was supposed to be fed from the Mahan coal block, which got embroiled in the go, no-go area classification in which the two proponents Essar and Hindalco lost two years. The project involves more than $1 billion of investment and currently is awaiting the final environmental clearance by the ministry.