There has been much discussion about bringing the GDP growth on track and the need for expediting infrastructure projects in this regard. At the Planning Commission Meeting to approve the Twelfth Five Year Plan, last month, there were concerns about the implementation of such projects because of the delay in the grant of environment and forest clearances. In this context, there has been talk of setting up a singular body that will grant approvals for large infrastructure projects. News reports suggest that the government is considering forming a National Investment Approval Board (NIAB). The NIAB will be responsible for expediting the clearances for mega project proposals above a certain financial threshold. The Board would be headed by the Prime Minister and will have the authority to provide the ‘final decision’ on investment projects. According to news reports, the NIAB will be the final decision making body. The Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) has raised concerns that this would create ambiguity in the current process of granting clearance for projects. While the formation of the NIAB is still being deliberated and discussed, it would be relevant to understand the process that the MoEF follows before granting clearance to a project and look at data on number of clearances granted and pending. The MoEF has developed certain processes to examine the potential environmental impact of new projects or expansion of existing projects. These are contained in the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006. This notification empowers the Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC) to review the environmental impact of projects. The EAC carries out a combination of these steps depending on the classification of the project:
- Screening: To determine whether the project requires further study for preparing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
- Scoping: Setting clear guidelines that state the environmental concerns identified in the project.
- Public Consultation: To ascertain the concerns of the local persons affected by the environmental impacts of the project.
- Appraisal: The EAC studies the application, final EIA report, and outcome of the public consultations and makes its recommendations to the MoEF.
The MoEF considers the grant of environmental clearance to development projects in terms of the provisions of EIA Notification, 2006. From July 13, 2011 to July 12, 2012 the MoEF has given environmental clearances to 209 development projects. For a sector wise break up see Table 1. Table 1: Number of Environment Clearances Accorded
|Sector||No. of projects accorded EC|
|Industry (Steel & Cement)||
|River Valley and Hydro-electric||
Source: “Environmental Clearance accorded from 13.07.2011 to 12.07.2012”, MoEF A total of 593 proposals are pending for environmental clearance as on August 13, 2012.[i] It remains to be seen how the process of granting clearances as established by the MoEF will be reconciled with the expedited process of the NIAB.