Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Penalty for environmental offences to be raised

NAGPUR: The existing quantum of penalty prescribed under the Environment (Protection) Act (EPA), 1986 being too meagre and the process of imposing penalty so cumbersome, the quantum of penalty for non-compliance of the environment clearance (EC) conditions for projects is likely to be made sufficiently high and there may not be any ceiling on the quantum of penalty amount for serious offences.

A high-powered committee headed by J M Mauskar, additional secretary (impact assessment), of the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), in its report submitted on January 11, has recommended that serious offences may be made cognizable by police and also non-bailable. The process of imposing penalty needs to be made swifter and prompt in terms of payment of penalty.

The panel was set up on December 14, 2009 to streamline monitoring and compliance of conditions for environmental safeguards and there by making it more comprehensive, effective and transparent.

"The government is expected to implement the recommendations in a year. To make EPA violations cognizable and non-bailable, amendment will have to be made in the EPA," Mauskar said. The state pollution control boards (SPCBs) have already adopted alternate mechanisms such as securing of bank guarantee for ensuring compliance of the commitments made by the companies. MoEF is analysing the issue.

The EPA of MoEF is an umbrella Act for protection and improvement of environment. Under the Act, the ministry has brought out several notifications prescribing rules, standards, identification of ecosensitive zones etc.

The MoEF is also proposing to constitute a National Environment Assessment and Monitoring Authority (NEAMA), an independent agency to undertake environmental appraisal of projects under EIA Notification, 2006, and also to undertake monitoring of the stipulated conditions for their effective implementation during the project cycle.

The committee's recommendations are based on basic principles that 'polluter pays' and 'prevention is better than cure' which puts the entire responsibility of operating a project in conformity with the best environmental practices and in compliance with the stipulated conditions.

Since Jairam Ramesh took over, the MoEF, as part of making the whole system of monitoring more transparent, has been asking the project proponents to put the monitoring reports on their website to make it available in the public domain.

"Yet, the existing system of environment monitoring suffers short comings due to procedural and administrative deficiencies, inadequate infrastructure and trained technical manpower and legislative deficiencies," the report said.

In Vidarbha itself, projects especially relating to power sector, highways, irrigation and construction sector have their impacts essentially during construction phase and hence would require rigorous monitoring of EC conditions.

Keeping in view the limitations of the existing system of monitoring and analysis of the EC conditions during different stages of the project, a new approach to monitoring of EC compliance has been envisaged.

The panel has recommended involvement of specialised agencies and institutions in monitoring EC compliance; transparent self-monitoring by project proponent and enabling community scrutiny and verification; enhancement of penalty; putting information in public domain on the website as also on display boards etc.

The report lists out Raigad and Ratnagiri in Western Maharashtra as areas where concentration of developmental activities is more and may prove detrimental to environment. "Such areas should be monitored regularly to assess the environmental matrices of the region in terms of the impact of these activities on air, water, flora and fauna and critical habitats," the report says. However, the committee has ignored Vidarbha, where 85 power projects are being proposed thereby threatening the ecology here.

The committee has also considered assessment of Raigad and Ratnagiri mentioning the areas rich biodiversity and alphanso mangoes. However, there is no mention of Vidarbha which is famous for its oranges.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

‘Cut and paste' EIA consultant banned


Priscilla Jebaraj

Five different mining projects in five different villages of Rajasthan all have one thing in common. According to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports that they individually submitted as part of their environment clearance application, each project is surrounded by exactly the same ambient air quality, with identical data for some stations.

They also share a common EIA consultant — R.K. Consultants, Jodhpur.

After the Environment Ministry's committee to appraise mining projects noted the same data appearing in all the reports, the consultant “clarified” that “it was a mistake which had crept in during preparation of report due to cut and paste.” The committee was not amused, and promptly rejected the clearance applications of all five projects, and banned the consultant from the EIA business for the next three years as well.

However, the “cut and paste” technique of the consultant underlines the growing farce of EIAs that are making a mockery of the country's environmental clearance system.

‘EIA key to clearance'

Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has said that a small percentage of the most sensitive projects will soon be subject to EIAs by government-appointed panels. Currently, EIAs are commissioned by the project proponents themselves, using paid consultants.

“The EIA is central to the clearance process. But between the manipulated EIA report and the fixed public hearing, the environment clearance has become a fait accompli,” he admitted.

Massive flaws

With citizens and activists awaking to the massive flaws in the system, widespread protests against projects — including high profile cases such as Posco, Vedanta and Lavasa — then led to the Ministry to constitute its own panels to re-examine environmental impacts.

The Minister noted that some government institutions have also become “thoroughly subverted” by the EIA system. “To my horror, I found that the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education is preparing EIAs for private players. I have put a stop to that,” he said.

Ministry officials claim that another public body, the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, is one of the “most notorious EIA consultants.” Some of its reports have been debunked by expert panels, with its evaluation of the Union Carbide gas leak site in Bhopal sparking outrage among residents and activists.