The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change released an amnesty scheme for projects that violated environmental clearances (ECs). The Union government’s new standard operating procedure (SOP) for EC violations was laid out in an office memo dated July 7.
According to the memo, infrastructure and industrial projects that have no prior environmental clearance will be closed down and be assessed once again. Individuals associated with projects that violate norms will also have to shell out fines, while industrial projects will be demolished if they were ex post facto or retrospectively ineligible to receive clearances from the government.
Similarly, projects that have not sought clearances for increased production will have to revert to production quantities that they have clearances for. Projects that in the past did not require any governmental clearances will also have to restrict their production until they receive new ECs for their current production limits.
While the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), 2020, is still not ratified, the scheme is supposedly on the basis of a National Green Tribunal order dated June 3, 2021. The order stated, “For past violations, the concerned authorities are free to take appropriate action in accordance with polluter pays principle, following due process.”
The draft EIA Notification, 2020 allows industries that have operated without environmental clearances to now post facto apply for clearances. This allows all previously illegal industries to apply for fresh ECs, pay the associated fines and then be declared legal, according to the norms.
The new scheme, according to the office memo, will only be demolishing projects in rare cases where industries would never be eligible for environmental clearances in the first place.
"Even if the government wants to bring all projects within the regulatory process, this form of blanket process, irrespective of number, scale, size, age and impacts is against environmental principles and laws. Without any background justification for such a process, it appears that the ministry is only trying to dodge the risks from growing litigation against violating projects and ineffective regulators. So this is purely an exercise in political survival," said Manju Menon, Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research
Restricting illegal industrial projects, which are often exponentially more polluting than those that have to adhere to legal norms, is key to protecting the environment. EIA measures the economic benefit of a project against its environmental harm and seeks to find alternatives so that there is least harm.
(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)
First Published: IST