Small projects in Gujarat suffer because of failure of the state government to form environmental clearance committees

environBy Mahesh Pandya*

More than 1,739 projects are awaiting environment clearance in Gujarat. The reason is not far to seek. The tenure of the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) and State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) ended in July 2013. These projects needed their nod to be implemented in Gujarat. They have remained without being cleared since July 2013, because, under the provisions of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2006, they come under Category B, which requires environmental clearance from the SEIAA. Most of these are small and medium projects. They have waited for too long to start implementation.

As per the EIA notification 2006, “The SEIAA shall base its decision on the recommendations of a State or Union territory level Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) as to be constituted for in this notification. In the absence of a duly constituted SEIAA or SEAC, a Category ‘B’ project shall be treated as a Category ‘A’ project.” Category A projects have to take environment clearance from Centre and category B projects need to get clearance from the state.

But at present in Gujarat the state government has not formed SEAC and SEIAA since the former SEAC and SEIAA’s three-year term expired on July 22, 2013. Moreover, till December 2013, the state government did not feel any need to give any notice for treating these projects as Category A and start their clearance process by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India. More recently, the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) has put notice for the same, but has done it without specifying dates.

The absence of these committees and 1,739 pending projects made the Paryavaran Mitra curious to find out a little more, and that is why a decision was taken to make an application under the right to information (RTI) Act. The information obtained through RTI indicates that the last SEAC/ SEIAA committees’ tenure was from July 23, 2010 to July 22, 2013. There is no SEAC/ SEIAA committee since July 2013. The GPCB made an application to the department of environment and forest, Gujarat government, to form SEAC/ SEIAA on July 2, 2013.

The state government’s department for environment and forests cleared the GPCB application on November 26, 2013. Finally, the department applied to the MoEF on December 3, 2013 (via letter No ENV-102013-906-E) to form new SEAC and SEIAA committees. The failure to form SEAC/ SEIAA committees had already become obvious. There was a delay in making an application by the state government. It had led to piling up of pleas for environmental clearance.

The Paryavaran Mitra, as a voluntary organization which aims for better environmental governance, did an analysis to evaluate environmental clearance practice adopted for Category B projects by the SEIAA, Gujarat. The purpose of the analysis was to find out how the SEIAA system would fair in a challenging situation, when there is no committee for the last 10 months, and 1,739 projects are pending for clearance. Also, after the formation of the new committee, what steps should be taken to improve the practice so that sustainable development can be achieved?

Important outcomes of the analysis:

Speedy clearance: Number of projects rejected year-wise was quite less between 2008 and 2011. In fact, no projects were rejected in these years. In 2012, three out of 335 projects were rejected. In 2013, one out of 217 projects was rejected. A total of 130 projects out of 217 projects was cleared in 2013 till July 2013. But these projects took more than standard time for clearance. These projects are mostly of 8 (A) category, which is mainly for building and construction work. The highest projects cleared (57) were during the last meeting on July 22, 2013.

Lack of transparency: As per the office circular of the MoEF dated June 30, 2009, “A copy of clearance letter shall also be put on website of the company by the proponent.” Nut none of the 34 projects under category 5 (F) that were cleared in year 2013 displayed environmental clearance on their website.

As per the EIA notification 2006, compliance reports are a public document and should be displayed on the website of the regulatory authority concerned, but the Paryavaran Mitra found that only 34 compliance reports out of a total of 1,045 projects cleared from 2008 to 2013 were put on the SEIAA website. Basic information like the date of the application, i.e. Form I, could be obtained only after the project was sent for environmental clearance. Meeting schedule and agendas as well as minutes of the SEAC meetings were not kept on the website of the SEIAA, although it is mandatory as per the EIA notification 2006.

Absence of committees: Application for new SEAC/ SEIAA committees was not made well before the due date of completion of the term, which resulted in delay in the clearance process of small entrepreneurs. This suggests inefficiency of the state government to give any notice regarding treating the pending Category B projects as A and clearing the projects.

In this scenario, the questions that arise are:

  • How would the SEIAA system fare in a challenging situation when more than 1,739 are pending till December 2013, so that qualitative clearance process could be achieved?
  • The number of pending projects is not clear. Information on this is not in public domain. What will happen with pending projects – and when will these projects get the green nod?

The Paryavaran Mitra’s main demand is, arrangements should be made for fair clearance of projects in future. A new committee should be formed before its time limit expires. If there is any time lapse between the completion of the last SEAC/ SEIAA committee tenure and the formation of the new one, necessary arrangement should be made for the uninterrupted functioning of environmental clearance process.

*Director, Paryavaran Mitra

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