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No ministerial panel for green clearance: Jairam Ramesh

Written By mediavigil on Monday, March 29, 2010 | 6:02 AM

New Delhi, March 26 (IANS) Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh denied Friday that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had set up a ministerial panel to give environment clearances and said his ministry would continue to give approvals to infrastructure projects.

No Group of Ministers (GoM) has been formed to decide on environmental clearances as claimed by a section of the media, Ramesh told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu here.

The minister's comment followed reports that Manmohan Singh had asked the Planning Commission for suggestions for fast track clearances following complaints from ministers that the environment ministry had held up their infrastructure projects.

Indo-Asian News Service
Mar 26th, 2010

Newspapers like Indian Express had reported on 23rd March that Minister of Road Transport and Highways Kamal Nath has accused him of blocking key highway projects by stalling his Ministry’s clearances. Nath has asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene and ensure that the Environment Ministry fast-track clearances within a fixed time period. In his letter to the PM, Nath has given details of road projects waiting for approvals from the Environment Ministry which has claimed that these projects are detrimental to wildlife and forest cover.

Sources said Kamal Nath’s letter mentions three projects in Maharashtra and at least four in Assam among others. These include the stretch on National Highway 7 that passes through the Pench National Park in Madhya Pradesh — near Kamal Nath’s constituency of Chhindwara.

This stretch on NH-7 — connecting Jabalpur to Nagpur — is proposed to be widened but the Environment Ministry has been against it because it would entail cutting of trees in a dense forest.

In his letter, Nath is said to have suggested that in cases where there was no need for land acquisition, clearances should be given within 30 days. In other cases, approvals should not take more than two months, he is said to have suggested. The Prime Minister, on his part, is learnt to have forwarded the letter to Ramesh for his ministry’s comments.

Sources said Ramesh has already discussed the matter with the Prime Minister. Ramesh has also had several rounds of discussions with various state governments over the issue of construction of roads in ecologically sensitive areas.

Jairam’s green nod gets harder to come

By Ranjit Bhushan Mar 21 2010

RIL, L&T & Vedanta among 120 projects stuck

Environmental clearances for big industrial projects may no longer be as easy as before.

In the wake of the Copenhagen summit and the widening global debate on carbon emissions and global warming, India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, has told his officials to put these projects through a tough scrutiny, instead of issuing blanket no-objection certificates. The results are already evident.

Sterlite’s Vedanta Aluminium is just one of 120 industrial and mining projects hanging fire for want of environmental clearance.

While steel majors like Posco and ArcelorMittal have finally managed to get their clearances after years of lobbying and resultant media glare, there are many others who are still facing the environmental stonewall.

Among them are Reliance’s petrochemical project, Larsen & Tubro’s industrial estates and mining projects of Jindal Steel, JP Associates, Gra-sim Industries and Tata Chemicals.

Among top public sector undertakings whose projects too are stuck are SAIL and NTPC. Their applications have been pending since April last year or before.

Environmentalist lawyer Sanjay Parikh supports the ministry’s toughness. “Environmental clearance has become a bit of a joke with as many as 100 projects being cleared in a day. Now for the first time, environment clearance is not in the hands of lobbies -- from the steel or the mining sectors,” he says.

To buttress his point, Parikh says that between September 2006 and September 2008, every industrial project for which approval was sought was cleared: 952 industries approved, none rejected. In this period, 134 thermal power plants faced no environmental hiccups, though it is well-established that such carbon-intensive plants contribute significantly to global warming.

Even an influential group such as Reliance has been made to wait. Its proposal for a petrochemical project at Jamnagar in Gujarat was first made in July 2008, put up for consideration around June 2009; then again in August (but the meeting was not held), and yet again in October; this meeting only deferred the proposal. Another meeting in November did not reach any decision for want of further information.

Jindal Steel and Power’s 11 million-tonne integrated mining project and a 2,600 mw captive power plant with a total investment of Rs 30,000 crore in Jharkhand were first taken up in March 2009. Based on additional information, it was taken up again in July. A third meeting in August deferred the decision and kept it open ended.

Ditto with HPCL’s diesel hydro-treating facility in Mumbai, which was first considered in May 2009. Additional information was sought and the proposal reconsidered in July before being consigned to the files.

Affected companies are hesitant to give details. Says an HPCL official, “The projects that require environment clearance are sent for approval to the government and each project requires different lengths of time to get the clearance. Every project has different levels of clearance based on statutory norms. We cannot divulge details on our proposed projects.”

However, the company is looking at investing over Rs 20,000 crore in a greenfield project in Raigad or Ratnagiri in Maharashtra in the face of its inability to expand its Mumbai plant. “In view of the constraints in the expansion of the Mumbai refinery, we plan to build one close by,” said an official.

None of NTPC’s captive coal blocks in Jharkhand have received the environmental clearance. This will impact the company’s efforts at securing coal supplies, according to a senior official of the Central Electricity Authority.

Some SAIL projects too, like the underground coal mine project at Sitnala in Bokaro in Jharkhand, are held up. Says a SAIL spokesman, “Environmental clearance for Sitanala is in progress. He says that after the approval of the terms of reference by the ministry, an environmental impact assessment report and an environmental management plan have been prepared. Also, public hearing (a prerequisite for environmental clearance) was successfully held in January 2010. The ministry now awaits recommendations of the state government. It will then be considered by the expert appraisal committee.

Are environmental procedures taking too long? According to an official of the ministry, who prefers anonymity, the rules have been tightened since Jairam Ramesh became minister. In recent meetings the minister made it clear that clearances should not be given in a hurry.

A more recent case hitting the headlines is Vedanta. Despite being granted clearances by Orissa’s environment department, Ramesh’s ministry has taken a contrarian view. A committee set up by his ministry has indicted Orissa Mining Corporation and Vedanta for infringing the rights of the tribal population of Lanjigarh where its bauxite mining project is coming up. The report also said the promoters of the project had violated the Forest Rights Act and started work without obtaining necessary government clearances.

“When land was acquired for the project, the villagers were promised jobs. Now these people have not only lost their land but have no access to jobs. To add to their woes, they are constantly exposed to pollutants,” Usha Ramanathan, a legal expert at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), who headed the three-member ministry probe, said in the report submitted to the ministry.

Ramesh told reporters last week that according to law, the company should have obtained clearances to work both in the forest and non-forest areas. However, it started work in the non-forest areas though it did not have the necessary sanctions.

Ramanathan’s report, prepared following a site inspection, gives details of the impact of the project on the livelihood and deteriorating health of the tribal population — and the increasing pollution they are exposed to. “This is a disturbing state of affairs and needs to be checked if the neutrality of the state is to be maintained,” she concluded in her 37-page report.

(with inputs from Amit Mudgill)

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