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.
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.