By Chandrajit Banerjee
As India marks 75 years of independence this year, achieving economic growth with environmental sustainability and climate change mitigation have emerged as key challenges. The environmental impact of growth includes the increased consumption of natural resources, higher levels of pollution, and the potential loss of ecological habitats. However, not all forms of growth cause damage to the environment and growth enabled with innovation can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
A business regulatory regime based on trust with effective regulations that protect the environment yet ensure growth requires a fine balancing act. The government has shown commitment to synchronising the ease of doing business and normalisation of conformities without compromising the natural resources and environmental conditions of the country. It has recently streamlined more than 25,000 compliance conditions to support ease of living and ease of doing business. Further, it has stressed that compliance systems must be based on trust by promoting self-assessment and effective internal control mechanisms.
The ministry of environment, forests, and climate change has instituted the mechanism for a faster and more transparent environmental clearance regime for developmental and industrial activities. PARIVESH 2.0 is a web-based, role-based workflow application that has been developed for online submission and monitoring of the proposals submitted for seeking environment, forest, wildlife, and Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) clearances from central, state, and district authorities. It automates the entire tracking of proposals which includes online submission of a new proposal, editing/updating the details of proposals and displaying their status at each stage of the workflow. The system has an efficient technology-driven workflow that minimises redundancies, a robust appraisal process, a reliable and validated database that encourages accountability and ease of doing business.
The average time for granting environmental clearances (ECs) has reduced significantly from more than 150 days in 2019 to less than 90 days, and in some of the sectors, even within 60 days. These efforts to streamline the tedious process of environmental clearances through digital intervention and transparent mechanism have been well received by the industry.
The ministry has proactively undertaken stakeholder consultations in the last 24 months and has issued various office memorandums, clarifications, guidelines, and amendments in the EIA notifications 2006, most recently in April 2022, where category and threshold limits of several projects were amended to accelerate production and developmental activities in line with Aatmanirbar Bharat and PLI schemes. The amendment provides for exemption of environmental clearance to several projects, including defence-related or border area projects, thermal plants up to 25 MW based on biomass, and expansion of terminal building of airport, basically for projects deemed as public utility works. The exemptions come with the condition that standard environmental safeguards for such projects would be followed by the agency executing such projects or by providing for environmental safeguards in the environmental management plan at the time of granting such clearances. The validity of environmental clearance to hydro-power and nuclear projects, among others, was extended.
In a recent survey by Smart Air, of the 25 most polluted cities in the world, nine are in India. The government has been making efforts to control industrial pollution—industries have been categorised as red, orange, green, or white based on pollution potential. The frequency of renewal of consent has been linked with the category to ease the burden. The real-time monitoring of industrial emissions and effluents is being carried out by Online Continuous Emission and Effluent Monitoring Systems (OCEMS) analysers for applicable parameters in an industry. In case of exceeding of prescribed standards, the web portal generates SMS alerts to concerned officials. The finance minister, while presenting Budget FY23, referred to the Circular Economy transition. This aligns with waste management rules through which the Centre is strengthening the digital mechanism of Extended Producer Responsibility portals for plastic, e-waste, and battery waste as an environment protection strategy, making the manufacturer responsible for the entire life cycle of the product, especially for take-back, recycling, and final disposal.
These amendments, the time-bound implementation of the compliance management regime, government action on green clearance conditions, self-regulation processes for the proponents, OCEMS, and many more will all act as key enablers for better facilitation of the overall vision of transforming the whole compliance process digitally. This will go a long way in enhancing the ease of doing business and reducing the cost of doing business as well as making Indian industry more sustainable in line with the demand of the times. The industry must continue to work with the government on ensuring sustainable and environmentally-aligned growth processes.
The author is Director General, CII