Don’t let studies delay projects: Environment minister Anil Madhav Dave to experts


Written by Jay Mazoomdaar | New Delhi | Updated: January 20, 2017 10:30 am

In its first two years, the Narendra Modi government cleared over 2,000 projects involving investment worth Rs 10 lakh crore.


Don’t delay project clearances by repeatedly asking for different studies. That was Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave’s message to non-official expert members of the ministry’s appraisal committees. He urged them to work hard to clear the bulk of pending processes over the next three months.

Around 40 expert members from all over the country were invited to an “interaction and lunch” which was followed by a closed-door meeting with the minister at the ministry headquarters on January 5.

In his 45-minute address — according to two expert members present at the meeting — the minister spoke of the vision and contribution of his party and the government while charting the course they should follow while appraising project proposals. Key directions included:

* Ensure zero-corruption in the appraisal process.
* Clear projects fast. Don’t hold back development.
* Don’t compromise on ease of doing business, the key goal of the government.
* Work as a team towards that goal or resign right away.
* Be wary of NGOs funded by foreign interests that don’t want India to develop.

Reached for comments, Dave told The Indian Express he wanted non-official expert members to be more active in ensuring that environmental protection and development go hand in hand.

“They should always put their opinion on record. But we can’t sit on projects for years and keep asking for XYZ studies. Yeh nahin chalega (this won’t do). The culture of delay must change. Genuine projects must be cleared within a fixed deadline,” he said.

In its first two years, the Narendra Modi government cleared over 2,000 projects involving investment worth Rs 10 lakh crore. In May 2016, Dave’s predecessor Prakash Javadekar had said that the average waiting period for project approval had been brought down to 190 days from 600 days during the UPA regime and the aim now was to reduce it further to 100 days.

At the January 5 meeting, Dave raised several questions to make his point. “He asked if we should bother about cutting trees when soldiers were dying on the border. Or about putting speed breakers on highways to save animals when CRPF jawans were getting injured in blasts in Chhattisgarh. He talked about activists who sip bottled water while lecturing on rivers while villagers go without water for 250-300 days a year,” said an expert member present at the meeting.

Another expert member said: “We are in these committees as subject experts to offer our independent opinion on technical issues. We are scientists, not rubber stamps. Also, I don’t think it was an occasion for the minister to talk about his party. We don’t need to prove our patriotism by blindly clearing projects,” he said.

Asked if he served an ultimatum, Dave said he was “probably misunderstood” by some of the expert members. “I spoke about strategic projects like border roads that take supplies to our forces. I stressed on zero-tolerance to corruption, particularly in the wake of demonetisation. I did not ask anyone to resign. I said mann pe bojh rakh ke kaam mat kijiye (don’t work with a burden on your mind),” he said.

Before Dave made his speech, the ministry held a brief presentation and listed the number of projects cleared by different expert committees in the past to evaluate their performance. The minister’s speech was followed by an appeal by Environment Secretary Ajay Narayan Jha, urging experts to come up with suggestions for speeding up the clearance process.

Environment panel against entertaining ‘anti-development’ representations

The committee emphasised that relevant ministries scrutinised every aspect of a project and proposed it for final appraisal only when all details were in place.

Blaming public representations for making “sweeping statements” and having “an anti-development attitude”, the expert appraisal committee (EAC) on river valley and hydel projects of the Ministry of Environment has decided “not to take any cognizance of such representations” received by its members. In its December 30 meeting, the committee concluded that once a project proposal reaches the EAC for appraisal, it has crossed the stage of public consultation and “the EAC should not go back in time, and should not reopen it, by entertaining unsubstantiated representations received from the people”.

In case of any clarification regarding action taken on such representations under the RTI Act, the EAC prescribed that a standard reply — “action has been taken in accordance with the decisions taken in the 1st meeting of the EAC for River Valley and HEP on 30.12.2016” — should suffice.

“It was also felt that many of the objections raised are repetitive. Many such kind of representations have an anti-development attitude so that the projects are kept on hold or delayed. This has financial implications to the developers in particular and to the nation in general,” the EAC noted.

The committee emphasised that relevant ministries scrutinised every aspect of a project and proposed it for final appraisal only when all details were in place. If not satisfied that public consultation had been completed properly, the EAC said it could ask the project promoter to do the needful. The committee also made allowance for representations with “new points” and “grave consequences” on which comments from project proponents could be sought.

Environmental activists, however, pointed out the impracticality of the contention that representations should be restricted to the 30-day public consultation window.

“Public hearing is limited to only the state where a project is located. But many projects impact larger populations. For example, downstream impact of hydel projects in Arunachal Pradesh on Assam. Moreover, public hearings are seldom publicised widely or conducted fairly. If a submission has no merit, the EAC can record it as such but there is no justification for barring it altogether,” said Neeraj Wagholikar of Pune-based Kalpavriksh Environment Action Group.

Environmental lawyer Ritwik Dutta argued that expert appraisal committees rarely scrutinise proceedings of public hearings. “The EIA notification of 2006 requires that public hearings be video recorded. The purpose is that the members of the EAC view the video and form an opinion. But there is hardly any time for that in the rapid appraisal mode necessary for bulk clearance of projects,” he said.

In the landmark November 2009 judgment in Utkarsh Mandal vs Union Of India, the Delhi High Court observed: “The unseemly rush to grant environmental clearances should not be at the cost of the environment itself. The spirit of the EAC has to be respected. We do not see how more than five applications for EIA clearance can be taken up for consideration at a single meeting of the EAC. This is another matter which deserves serious consideration at the hands of MoEF.”

The EAC considered 13 projects in its December 30 meeting and cleared eight of them.

Ken-Betwa project on linking rivers cleared for environmental nod

The ambitious project requires diversion of 5,258 hectares of forest land, including 4,141 hectares of the Panna reserve, and was cleared by the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) last August.

THE RS 10,000-crore Ken-Betwa river-linking project has got the go-ahead for environment clearance. The nod comes even as the project is being examined by the Supreme Court’s Central Empowered Committee (CEC) for adequacy of mitigative measures against its adverse impact on the Panna tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh.

The ambitious project requires diversion of 5,258 hectares of forest land, including 4,141 hectares of the Panna reserve, and was cleared by the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) last August. On December 30, the Environment Ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for river valley and hydel projects recommended the project for environment clearance.

The CEC, meanwhile, had informed the Ministry in a letter on December 2 that it “would like to examine this (Ken-Betwa) proposal from the point of adequacy of mitigative measures against the adverse impacts of the project on the ecological integrity of Panna Tiger Reserve and particularly the riverine eco-system”.

The Ministry responded to the CEC’s request to make available relevant papers and reports related to the project only last week, after the project was cleared by the EAC. The CEC can approach the Supreme Court, if it feels aggrieved by a decision of the the NBWL panel.

The minutes of the December 30 EAC meeting note that the “consensus” at an internal meeting of the ministry on November 30 was to delink the landscape management plan (LMP) for the project-affected tiger habitat from the perspective of environmental clearance.

Last year, the EAC had called for the LMP and decided to reconsider the project only after obtaining a second opinion from an external expert.

Soon after the Ken-Betwa project was recommended for wildlife clearance, Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti had said that she was confident about an early environmental clearance. Last month, she claimed that “the last hurdle” was cleared and the project would be launched as soon as the funding pattern was finalised.

Surplus power in India: Now heavy users to pay lower tariffs

NEW DELHI: Major reforms of power tariffs are on the horizon as an official committee has recommended lower tariffs for heavy users to encourage electricity consumption as the country moves from a deficit to surplus situation. In India, power consumers have always been paying higher bills for higher consumption. Slabs are fixed and if you fall in the higher consumption range, you pay more. It's time the country doles out incentives for high power consumption, a committee constituted to advise the government on ways to increase electricity demand has said.

"The present tariff structure has been designed for power shortage scenario in states and has not been changed since Independence. Since India has excess electricity generation capacity now, the existing framework needs to be changed to address the capacity generation glut,” said a member of the committee constituted by the power ministry in September last year to suggest innovative schemes for raising power demand.

The committee comprises of chairman of the Central Electricity Authority, secretary of the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC), president of industry body Ficci, energy secretaries of Bihar and Tamil Nadu and principal energy secretaries of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. The committee is in the process of finalising its report and is likely to present it to the power ministry by January-end.

The official said the committee is of the view that to boost electricity demand, rebates and incentives in electricity bills be extended to consumers.

The state electricity regulatory commissions should revise the tariff design for all consumers, particularly industry, commercial and service sectors, the official said.

Presently, consumers are penalised by way of higher tariffs for higher consumption.

The committee also opines in the draft report that more states can offer power at lower rates to industries during night and off-peak hours. Such system of differential tariff is in place in some states and Madhya Pradesh has seen increase in power consumption. The committee has also explored other short term and long term options for enhancing power consumption.

These include promoting manufacturing under Make in India through electricity assurance, encouraging use of electric vehicles and electric equipment in construction activities.

ET on December 25 reported that the government planned to introduce a new tariff structure to charge more from large domestic power consumers rather than industrial units that currently share the cross subsidy burden. Most states categorise households consuming more than 800 units of power a month as large domestic consumers.

Environment clearance for Arossim (Goa) resort quashed





The National Green Tribunal (NGT) Western Zone Bench have quashed the amendment granting environment clearance to the 226 roomed, starred beach resort at Arossim seashore near Cansaulim which was proposed in the eco fragile area.

The Cansaulim-Arossim-Cuelim Civic and Consumer Forum and Cansaulim villagers Action Committee had filed an appeal in the NGT.

The village Panchayat of Cansaulim-Arossim-Cuelim had earlier returned the file seeking construction licence for the starred beach resort saying the file was incomplete and has no Environmental Clearance.

The CACCF vice president Dr Marconi Correia said that the villagers of Cansaulim Arossim Cuelim stand vindicated as they were aware of the norms which was not followed while granting the Environmental Clearance to the project in an eco fragile area wherein the rainstorm channels of the village meet the Arabian Sea.