Over 700 important projects are pending environmental clearances from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change since the last three years, but the Ministry is taking various measures to expedite such clearances, according to information provided by the Ministry in a written reply to the Lok Sabha.
The Sunday Guardian had filed an RTI to gets details of projects awaiting the Ministry’s environmental clearances. Important projects pending environmental clearances include several thermal power projects, hydro power projects, coal mining, industrial and infrastructure development projects, among others, as per the RTI reply received from the Ministry.
A total of 10 thermal power projects of about 16,000 MW are pending clearances before the Ministry to start their operations, according to the RTI reply received by The Sunday Guardian. Among the important thermal power projects waiting to start operations is the Super Critical Margherita coal-based thermal power project of the Assam Power Generation Corporation Limited (APGCL). The project is expected to generate 660 MW of power once it starts operations. The 2,400 MW thermal power project of the Odisha Thermal Power Corporation is also pending environmental clearances and it is believed that this power project is expected to bring much needed relief from the long power outages faced by Odisha.
A total of 24 river valley and hydro electric power projects are pending environmental clearances since 2014. However, the Ministry refused to divulge details of such projects in the RTI filed by this newspaper.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is yet to clear 434 projects related to infrastructure and industrial development, that have been pending before the Ministry since the last three years. Almost 210 non-coal mining projects are also pending environmental clearances. Some of the non-coal mining projects include gold mining projects in Karnataka and sand mining projects in several rivers in the country, among many others. Not only this, the Ministry had also held up over 450 requests for “forest clearances” from different states in 2016 alone, while the Ministry rejected 50 such requests in the same year. In 2015, the Ministry had rejected 136 forest clearance requests from states and in 2014, 129 such requests had been rejected.
In 2016, Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh had made the highest number of forest clearance requests to the Ministry. Even states from North-East have been waiting for forest clearance sanctions to build roads and infrastructure in the area. Arunachal Pradesh has six such requests pending to build roads for connectivity to crucial areas; in Assam, a 245 km road is waiting for forest clearance since the last two years, as per the RTI reply.
However, the Ministry in its recent reply to the Lok Sabha said, “Different measures taken by the government to expedite environment clearances include dedicated on-line portal/facility for effective monitoring, standardisation of terms of reference for preparation of EIA reports and the Environment Management Plan, exemption from public consultations to certain projects/activities, streamlining the procedures, etc. The Ministry has taken several initiatives such as launching web portal for online submission and monitoring the status of forest clearance proposals and delegation of powers to Regional Empowered Committees (RECs) constituted at each Regional Office for final disposal of proposals, involving diversion of 5 to 40 hectares of forest land (except the proposals related to mining, regularisation of encroachments and hydel projects).”