Central Government has released a draft rule which seeks to make changes in environmental approvals. The draft rules significantly dilute the process through which projects are granted environmental clearances.
The existing Environment impact assessment(EIA) rules,2006 governs green clearance for all varieties of tasks such as mining, infrastructure, thermal, hydro, irrigation, and industries – across the country.
The draft rules give local bodies such as municipalities, urban development authorities and district panchayats the authority to grant building permits for building or construction projects with a built-up area of more than 20,000 sq metres and less than 50,000 sq metres.
The draft also offers clearance to diverse tasks such as twin carriageway tasks in border areas, growth of existing highways and growth of existing industrial tasks without an additional acquisition of land without environment appraisal.
The draft rules also say that expansion of projects up to 50% of the existing capacity in various sectors will be exempted from any kind of public consultation. This covers the modernization of irrigation projects, roads and highways where no further acquisition of land is involved.
However, environmental activists have protested against the draft. They said the draft should have addressed issues such as (a)miserable quality of EIA reports (b)compromised public hearings (c)rapid appraisal processes and (d)unhappy compliance monitoring.
EIA is a process that studies all aspects of the environment and seeks to anticipate the impact (positive and/or negative) of a proposed project or development on the environment. EIA is mandatory under the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986 for 29 categories of developmental activities involving investments of Rs. 50 crores and above.