Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Are the govt’s green clearances a farce?

Many projects could have been approved based on inaccurate environmental impact assessment reports

Padmaparna Ghosh reports,

New Delhi: On 29 December 2006, the Union environment ministry signed off on the environmental clearance for a bauxite mining project located in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, to be operated by Ashapura Minechem Ltd, a listed Indian firm that is on the verge of starting the mine.
On the face of it, the clearance, given by the ministry on the recommendation of an internal expert appraisal committee on mining, consisting of 11 members, was fairly routine but vital to Ashapura moving ahead on the project.
But, it turns out that the critical environmental impact assessment, or EIA, the basis on which the expert group gave its approval, was based on data simply copied from a Russian bauxite mine report that had nothing to do with Ratnagiri’s vegetation or ecology.
Interviews with activists, officials in the environment ministry and companies, coupled with a review of documents obtained through the Right to Information Act (RTI) suggest that Ratnagiri may be one of many projects cleared by the ministry based on inaccurate environmental assessment reports.
Environmental activists maintain that several other projects have EIAs that are also faulty. Others say that an overburdened expert group and lack of standards for environment consultants who help write these reports is leading to some projects being approved without an accurate assessment of environmental and social costs.
“In the few years that we have started challenging faulty EIAs, we were clear that bulk of the EIA reports by even the most reputed organization are a ‘cut and paste’ job, based on secondary data... Most, if not all, got cleared by the ministry of environment and forests,” alleges Ritwick Dutta, an environmental lawyer and convenor of Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, or Life, a New Delhi-based non-profit that obtained the Ratnagiri information through RTI.
If true, this would also mean that several ongoing projects could end up in legal jeopardy if environmentalists are able to prove their case.
While there is no independent means of verifying how many EIAs were faulty, in the Ratnagiri mining case, the ministry admits that approval was given without any independent assessment of the “facts” in the report.
Consider what the report said about the environment in Ratnagiri district: “The primary habitat near the site, for birds, is the spruce forests and the forests of mixed spruce and birch.”
Turns out, such tree species are found only in northern temperate regions, such as Alaska, Norway and Russia.
“There could be misjudgement on the part of the ministry in this case but the onus does not lie only on the ministry,” concedes a member of the expert group on mining that cleared the Ratnagiri project. He didn’t want to be named citing the need to follow the ministry’s protocol.

Original Article: http://www.livemint.com/2007/12/27000203/Are-the-govt8217s-green-cle.html

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