Environmental Clearance for Projects

Prelims level : National Conservation & Mitigation Mains level : GS-III Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment
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Why in News?

  • The Supreme Court recently dismissed appeals by Kapico Kerala Resorts Private Limited, against a Kerala High Court decision banning the construction of resorts on Vembanad Lake in Alappuzha district of the State.

About Vembanad Lake:

  • Vembanad Lake is also known as Vembanad Kayal, Vembanad Kol, Punnamada Lake (in Kuttanad) and Kochi Lake (in Kochi).
  • Spanning several districts of Kerala and covering a territory of more than 2033.02 km2, it is the largest lake in Keralaand the longest Lake in India.
  • It is separated from the Arabian Sea by a narrow barrier island and is a popular backwater stretch in Kerala.
  • Vallam Kali (a.k.a Nehru Trophy Boat Race) is a Snake Boat Race held every year in the month of August in Vembanad Lake.
  • In 2002 it was included in the list of wetlands of international importance, as defined by the Ramsar Convention.
  • The Kumarakom Bird Sanctuaryis located on the east coast of the lake.

About Coastal Regulation Zone:

  • Coastal stretches of seas, bays, estuaries, creeks, rivers, and backwaters were declared as CRZs under coastal zone regulation notification in 1991.
  • CRZs have been classified into 4 zones for the purpose of regulation:
  • CRZ-I: includes ecologically sensitive areas, where no construction is allowed except activities for atomic power plants, Defense.
  • CRZ-II: includes designated urban areas that are substantially built up. Construction activities are allowed on the landward side only.
  • CRZ-III: includes relatively undisturbed areas, mainly rural areas. No new construction of buildings allowed in this zone except repairing of the existing ones. However, constructions of dwelling units in the plot area lying between 200-500m of the high tide line are allowed.
  • CRZ-IV: includes the water area covered between Low Tide Line and 12 nautical miles seaward. Except for fishing and related activities, all actions impugning on the sea and tidal water will be regulated in this zone.

Environmental Clearance:

  • Environmental Clearance is conducted to assess the impact of the planned project on the environment and people and to try to reduce the impact of the same.
  • Currently in our country the environmental clearance process is carried out for 39 types of projects.
  • In India the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has been established under the National Green Tribunal Act for effective disposal of cases regarding environmental protection and forest conservation.
  • The tribunal was set up to control emissions and maintains the optimum level.

How Environmental Clearance is done?

  • Environmental clearance is granted by the ministry of environment, and the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), under the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2006.
  • This notification details the process for granting EC.
  • It includes the structure of the EIA report, process of appraisal, and the conditions and safeguards that a company has to implement, including what the environment management plan should be.
  • The appraisal is carried out by the Expert Appraisal Committees (EACs), which largely comprise of ‘professionals and experts’. The appraisal procedure clearly states, ‘in case the project or activity is recommended for grant of EC, then the minutes shall clearly list out the specific environmental safeguards and conditions.
  • EIA Notification 2006 was issued under the sub-rule (3) of Rule 5 of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986. This rule gives powers to the central government to impose certain restrictions and prohibitions on the location of an industry, or the carrying out of processes and operations in an area, based on their potential Environmental Impacts.

What are the Drawbacks?

  • EC process in India involves a lot of paperwork with nothing to show on the ground.
  • Almost every project is cleared by EACs which consist of people not accountable to anyone.
  • There is hardly any post-clearance monitoring. Hence, non-compliance of the safeguards and conditions is rampant.
  • Projects are granted EC after they have already come up.
  • Primary goal of the EC process is to ensure that projects are located and constructed in such a manner that they have the least possible impact on the environment. Unfortunately, the governments could not uphold this focus
  • The present clearance process with its sequential hurdles either forces a project proponent to give up the venture, as was reportedly the case with major road projects of late, or burdens the project with time and cost overruns.

Way Forward:

  • These are Few Recommendations given by the CAG:
    • EC letters should clearly mention cost of activities under the Environmental Management Plan along with the timelines for their implementation.
    • The capital and revenue expenditure amount to be spent on CSR cost should be distinctly specified in the EC letter.
    • EC conditions should be more specific for the area to be developed under green belt and species is to be planted in consultation with forest/agriculture department along with post EC third party evaluation.
    • While prescribing the conditions of environment clearance, the details about installation of monitoring stations and frequency of monitoring of various environment parameters in respect of air, surface water, ground water, noise, etc. should be clearly mentioned.
    • It also said that the conditions of environment clearance should be compatible with the nature and type of project in order to avoid non-uniformity in similar kinds of projects.
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