Forest Diversion for Small as well as Large Linear Projects – Action Shifts from Centre to Region

 

 

 

Regional Empowered Committee (REC), Lucknow comprising of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and UT of Delhi at the Regional Office of the MoEF&CC is considering Forest Diversion of 463 ha proposed for diversion in 12 projects on 5 January 2017. Incidentally all the 12 proposals are for Linear projects (e.g. new roads, widening of existing highways, transmission lines, water supply lines, optical fibre cabling, railway lines etc).

 

RECs have been constituted at each of the 10 Regional Offices of the MoEF&CC under Chairmanship of the Head of the Regional Office, and having two officials of the Regional Office and three non- official experts in forestry and allied disciplines as members.

 

REC is competent to approve or reject proposals involving diversion of forest area above 5 hectares and up to 40 ha, except the proposals for regularization of encroachments, mining (including renewal of mining leases) and hydel projects.

 

REC has expanded power in case of linear projects. It looks at all linear proposals for diversion of more than 5 ha of forest land, even if it involves more than 40 ha forest land, which was not the case earlier.

 

For example, one Kanpur - Allahabad NH 2 proposal involving 89 ha of forest land is under consideration.

 

Ministry has been liberalizing rules for forest diversion for linear projects for quite some time, more so during NDA rule. Time and again, certain road projects have been allowed exemption from requirement of some processes of environmental clearance e.g. scoping  (assignment of terms of reference for environmental study), Public Consultation (to know the views of impacted people) etc. 

 

Ministry has diluted requirement of the Forest Right Act for such projects by issuing an OM dated 5 February 2013. It outlined that an inter-ministerial committee has ‘recommended that a resolution of the Gram Sabha of the area, based on full and prior information of the project and a public hearing, endorsing that the project is in the interest of the people living on the forest land, use of which is proposed to be diverted for non-forest purposes may not required’ for linear projects.

In context of simplification of procedure for grant of permission for felling of trees standing on forest land to be diverted for execution of linear projects e.g. new roads, widening of existing highways, transmission lines, water supply lines, optical fibre cabling, railway lines etc, MoEF&CC issued an order providing directions and guidelines. The order dated 28 August 2015 provides for the in- principle approval (stage I clearance) to be deemed as working permission for tree cutting and commencement of work after fulfilling some conditions. Earlier, such permission used to be given after completion of all pre- project implementation conditions and issue of stage II approval by Central Government and final approval of the state government. Now to expedite work, these clearances can be obtained later.

 

No doubt, more than 500 road proposals have been granted Forest Clearances in two years after 15th July 2014 all over the country.

 

 

Sector wise proposed Diversion

 

Sr No

Sector

Area

%Area

Proposals

%Proposals

1

Linear Project-Pipeline

8.36

1.80

1

8.33

2

Linear Project-Road

394.21

85.07

8

66.67

3

Linear Projects -Transmission line

18.75

4.05

2

16.67

4

Linear Projects-Railway

42.06

9.08

1

8.33

-

Total

463.38

100.00

12

100.00

 

 

 

 

State wise area proposed for diversion

 

Sr No

State

Sector

Area

%Area

Proposals

%Proposals

1

Uttar Pradesh

Linear Project-Pipeline

8.3581

1.80

1

8.33

2

Uttar Pradesh

Linear Project-Road

394.212

85.07

8

66.67

3

Rajasthan

Linear Projects -Transmission line

18.75

4.05

2

16.67

4

Rajasthan

Linear Projects-Railway

42.06

9.08

1

8.33

-

-

Total

463.3801

100.00

12

100.00

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proposals under Consideration

 

SI No.

Name of the Proposal / Agenda Item

State

Area (ha)

Category

1

Kanpur - Allahabad NH 2

Uttar Pradesh

88.94

Linear Project-Road

2

SH 510

Uttar Pradesh

63.2

Linear Project-Road

3

NH76

Uttar Pradesh

27.23

Linear Project-Road

4

SH 93

Uttar Pradesh

57.098

Linear Project-Road

5

MDR 81 C

Uttar Pradesh

23.458

Linear Project-Road

6

Old GT Road

Uttar Pradesh

17.626

Linear Project-Road

7

2x660 TPP water pipeline

Uttar Pradesh

8.3581

Linear Project-Pipeline

8

NH 93

Uttar Pradesh

58.26

Linear Project-Road

9

NH 42

Uttar Pradesh

58.4

Linear Project-Road

10

220 KV Ajmer Chitorgarh Transmission line

Rajasthan

9.002

Linear Projects-Transmission line

11

132 KV Nimbahera Vijaypur Transmission line

Rajasthan

9.7559

Linear Projects-Transmission line

12

Thaiyat Hamira New railway line

Rajasthan

42.06

Linear Projects-Railway

 

 

 

463.39

 

 

Analysis by

 

Pushp Jain & Terence Jorge

EIA Resource and Response Centre (ERC)

New Delhi - 110 048. India

 

NGT expresses displeasure with MoEF for exempting real estate from environmental clearances, says ‘why do you do these funny things’

National Green Tribunal (NGT) today expressed displeasure with the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for its new notification which exempts real estate developers from obtaining prior Environmental Clearance (EC). The green court has also restrained it from granting fresh permissions for costruction under the new regulation. A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar also sent a warning to MoEF saying, “You can’t do legal blunders and get away with it”.

MoEF’s new notification published on December 9, last year exempts buildings and construction projects of all sizes from the process of environment impact assessment (EIA) and prior environmental clearance before beginning construction. NGT has came down heavily on MoEF for not ‘applying its mind’ while making amendments on the notification.

For smaller projects (less than 20,000 sq metres), it even has a “self-declaration” clause, which will ensure issuance of permission from urban local bodies. For larger projects of more than 20,000 sq m size, the EC and building permission will be given by urban local bodies simultaneously in an “integrated format”.

http://www.financialexpress.com/india-news/ngt-expresses-displeasure-with-moef-for-exempting-real-estate-from-environmental-clearances-says-why-do-you-do-these-funny-things/497783/

Environmentalist says ministry deliberately delaying release of FAC agenda

Environmentalist says ministry deliberately delaying release of FAC agenda

Nagpur: The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) is delaying putting the agenda of forest land diversion projects in public domain ostensibly to quell opposition from various quarters.

On December 26, the FAC considered diversion of 4,377 hectare forest land, a majority of it for mining projects. However, the meeting's agenda was shared on December 20.

FAC considered the projects which included the diversion of 3,952 hectare forest land for mining alone in Maharashtra (153ha), Chhattisgarh (1,294ha), Odisha (2,355ha), and Rajasthan (149ha), while the remaining area was for wind power and other projects. The minutes of the meeting is not released yet.

Pushp Jain, director of EIA Resource and Response Centre (ERC), alleged there are serious delays in sharing FAC agenda.

"The meeting was on December 26, but the agenda was shared only 6 days before that. This is ostensibly being done to ensure there is no opposition," Jain said.

Delhi-based ERC keeps watch on Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) processes and ensures that impact of developmental activities on India's environment and communities is properly accessed and accounted for.

Jain said of the total 4,377 hectares, maximum diversion is proposed for mining amounting to 90% (3,952ha). Odisha leads among states with maximum diversion proposed followed by Chhattisgarh.

Out of the 27 projects, 20 have been considered for review. The remaining seven projects are already granted stage I & II clearance and appeared for issues to be sorted out.

Jain says there were several problems with this agenda. There were 25 proposals but documents links were given for 4 proposals only. The title of proposals were incomplete and there was no mention whether it is a renewal of lease or stage I or II clearance already granted or a new proposal.

ERC said the agenda do have links to documents but titles of the proposals on the face of it are not clear. There were 25 proposals but two more were added on time, which means 27 proposals were discussed in one day.

Earlier too the ministry had announced FAC meeting for December 12 without the agenda being made available. The ERC strongly protested against it and pointed out to MoEFCC that ERC has not carried out rapid review of some proposals on agenda and hence is unable present issues and suggestions for consideration.

"This seems to be mischievous. Finally, due to representation by ERC and probably pressure from some independent members, better sense prevailed and MoEFCC postponed the meeting to December 26," says Jain.
Environmentalists, who did not want to be quoted, said this shows how the BJP government at the Centre is in a tearing hurry to clear detrimental projects. Of the late it is frequently happening that FAC agenda is not being put up in public domain.
 

 

ERC representatives said for earlier meeting on November 9-10, 2016, the agenda was put in public domain on November 5. Secondly, new proposals were quietly added to the agenda subsequently on November 7.
 

 

Conservationists said members of FAC should protest this attitude of the MoEFCC on ethical and moral grounds and demand action against officials responsible for the mess.
 

 

"Ideally, agenda of the meeting should be uploaded at least 10 days in advance with relevant documents made available," says Jain.

NGT notice to MoEFCC, MoUD for diluting construction norms

 

The notice was issued in an application filed by Pushp Jain, director, EIA Resource and Response Centre (ERC), who is associated with protection of environment, forest and wildlife for over 35 years.

Vijay Pinjarkar  |  TNN  |  January 03, 2017, 07:55 IST

NAGPUR: The National Green Tribunal (NGT), Principal Bench at Delhi, on Monday issued notice to ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) and ministry of urban development (MoUD) for dilution of laws for buildings and constructions.

The notice was issued in an application filed by Pushp Jain, director, EIA Resource and Response Centre (ERC), who is associated with protection of environment, forest and wildlife for over 35 years.

The MoEF & CC, whose job is to protect country’s natural resources, issued notification on December 9, 2016, amending the provisions of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2006. This in effect has removed the entire construction sector (up to 1,50,000 sqmt built up area) from the purview of environmental laws including the Environment (Protection) Act 1986; Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981 & Water (Prevention and control of pollution) Act 1974.

The MoUD, which formulates laws relating to housing and urban development, has issued Model Building by-laws in March 2016. One of the aims of the by-laws is to address growing environmental concerns.

Currently this objective of environmental safeguard is achieved through obtaining a specific environmental clearance (EC) for any construction project having a size of more than 20,000 sqmts.

However, Jain says the impugned notification not only dilutes existing environmental legislations, it is completely vague and ambiguous with terms like ‘as far as possible’, ‘as much as possible’, have been used several times with respect to various stipulated conditions.

“The new notification, completely exempts construction projects from taking wildlife clearance even if the project site is within 10km radius of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries or protected areas,” said Jain.

The laws have been bended to gain political mileage. ‘Housing for all’ is main target of ‘Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna’, which plans to cover 20 million household to slum poor and urban poor by 2022.

However, the notification has the effect of extending such an exemption to all other residential buildings, shopping malls, office complexes, multiplexes, IT buildings, educational institutions, hostels, etc. “Such an exemption under the guise of housing for urban poor is an eyewash and therefore, it is to be quashed,” the applicant states.

The notification ignores adverse environmental impacts due to construction sector, which is a huge contributor to air pollution as well as climate change as per the MoUD by-laws itself.

Jain says intensive construction activities directly relates to an increase in energy and water consumption, amount of waste generated and the impacts of the same on natural resources due to such constructions would be unprecedented.

The environmentalist says construction sector emits about 22% of India’s total annual CO2 emissions, according to a ‘Case Study for Construction in India’ — by Development Alternatives.

The removal of construction activities from the purview of the EIA Notification, 2006 will only mean a larger carbon footprint, and consequently, a breach of India’s international obligations, which it submitted in the form of a Climate Action Plan.

http://realty.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/regulatory/ngt-notice-to-moefcc-moud-for-diluting-construction-norms/56304627

Rule of policy as against rule of law

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/588806/rule-policy-against-rule-law.html

Ritwick Dutta, Dec 29, 2016

If policy decisions override statutory provisions, then such decisions are clearly questionable.

With the onset of winter, air pollution gains prominence as an issue of grave public concern. Despite its predictability, the central and the state governments have failed to take a single concrete step to deal with this environmental crisis.

An ‘action plan’ was framed to deal with the issue but in reality all that one had was only ‘plan’ and no ‘action’. Political parties also remained silent. Just like the people who hoped that a fresh wind will blow away the polluted air, the political parties have adopted silence as the most effective mitigation measure on the issue of air pollution, or for that matter, any environmental crisis.

In such situation the people were left with no option but to approach the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The NGT intervened directing that all the government shut down all stone crushers, construction activities, brick kilns and plying of old vehicles in the National Capital Region (NCR) for a week, in order to control the level of pollution. During the recent hearings before the NGT, the secretaries to the government dealing with environment in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh admitted that they have never bothered to even read the various direction passed by the NGT on air pollution.

Before the NGT, the bureaucrats appear to be meek public servants who are subjected to political pressure and excessive work load, not to mention frequent transfers. Yet, behind the bureaucratic veil, hectic work is underway to dismantle India’s environmental law and weaken institutions. One victim of the dilution as been the requirement of prior environmental clearance for building and construction projects. It is pertinent to point out that the building and construction sector is a significant contributor to air pollution.

The existing law – the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 – requires that all building and construction projects which involve 20,000 square metres or more should obtain prior Environmental Clearance from the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA). The SEIAA is required to evaluate the likely environmental impact due to the proposed construction and decide as to whether the project should be approved or not. Any person can approach the NGT in case they want to challenge the grant of clearance or if there is violation of the clearance/ approval conditions.

Construction projects such as flyovers, bridges, shopping malls etc, require environmental clearance if the construction is equal or more than 20,000 sq m. It is because of this provision that citizens have been able to approach the NGT to challenge ecologically unsustainable constructions, including the steel flyover and constructions on wetlands and around lakes in Bengaluru.

On December 9, the Centre issued amendments to the EIA Notification, 2006 as part of its ‘Ease of doing Responsible Business’ policy, under which it has exempted most construction up to 1,50,000 sq m from the Environment Impact Assessment process. This is mischievously called ‘Climate Resilient Constructions’. Strangely, there is not a word in the Notification, on how exempting construction projects from the Environment Impact Assessment process will make them climate resilient. Even more shocking is that the exemption is being justified under ‘housing for all’. The fact is that if housing for all is the purpose, why is the new notification exempting shopping malls, multiplex and office complex from the EIA process ?

Vacancies galore


At an institutional level, the NGT is functioning below its statutory strength. No new appointments have been made in recent months and out of the statutorily mandated 40 members, only 14 members are presently in office. This shortage is adversely affecting the functioning of the Tribunal. The vacancy here is an issue of serious concern. Unfortunately, when there is nearly 43% vacancy for judges in the high courts, the vacancy in the NGT does not seem to be the priority of either the judiciary or the executive.

The process of dilution of environmental laws is being undertaken to implement policy decisions of the government. The Government of India is keen to project the image that India is the ideal place to not only do business but also set up manufacturing units. There is nothing wrong in both of them. However, if the policy decisions override constitutional rights and statutory provisions, then such policy decisions are clearly questionable.

Specifically, if the policy decisions are to be implemented by diluting environmental safeguards, it will only aggravate the existing environmental crisis. Laying down red carpets for business entities, both national and MNCs, must be matched with strong safeguards for protecting the rights of the people and environment in order to protect them from the additional pollution load.

Unless, this is done, the people and ecology will end up being consumers of the toxic cocktail of air and water pollutants emitted by the industries while business entities reap profits. It will be a sad instance of the people of the largest democracy in the world being subjected to the ‘Rule of Policy’ rather than the ‘Rule of Law’.

(The writer is a New Delhi-based environmental lawyer)