06 June 2014

Speedy environmental clearances aren't necessarily a good thing

Prakash Javadekar, Minister of State for Environment and Climate Change, announced yesterday that the government would strive for environmental clearances within 60 days and would take the process completely online. The media is taken up with the first part of the story, that is, speedy clearance, but I haven't seen a report that brings out the irony of this announcement coming on World Environment day. 

The Center for Science and Environment lists the steps involved in environmental clearance. It says, "Once all the requisite documents and data from the project authorities are received and public hearings (where required) have been held, assessment and evaluation of the project from the environment angle is completed within 90 days and the decision of the ministry shall be conveyed within 30 days thereafter." 

It also notes that "In India, the role of the public in the entire environment clearance process is quite limited. Public consultation happens at a very late stage when the EIA report is already prepared and the proponent is about to present it to the review committee for clearance."

In such a scenario, what does it mean to speed up this process? Don't 'deemed approvals' sound ominous to anyone? Is public consultation, coming as it does towards the end, going to be the casualty of such speed? Are environmental clearances really the stumbling block to development as they are made out to be? Is it okay for us to race ahead when climate change is already here and when the Supreme Court specifically asked for a regulator to be set up to monitor the whole process of environmental clearance? 

If there's red tape in the process, yes, please get rid of it. But don't sacrifice or shortchange necessary steps such as public consultation. 

This government wants to 'set the pace' or at least wants to be seen as doing so, to contrast itself from the Congress style of governance. But what's actually happening behind these 'new-age' measures? Anyone care to slow down and explain?

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