A double-edged sword it is. The government has brought down the time taken to provide environmental clearances for projects from 105 days to close to 75 days, the Lok Sabha was informed on Monday.
Responding to a question on the delay in granting clearances to projects, Minister of State for Environment, Forest & Climate Change Ashwini Kumar Choubey told the Parliament that the Central government has been taking several steps to expedite the process of environmental clearances.
This includes the launch of a single-window online portal Parivesh (Pro-Active and Responsive facilitation by Interactive, Virtuous and Environmental Single-window Hub) by the environment ministry in 2018.
The portal has automated the entire process starting from submission of application, preparation of agenda and preparation of minutes to grant of clearances.
THE NOD, PROPOSALS
“Due to various efforts taken by Government towards streamlining the EC procedure, overall time taken in grant of EC has reduced considerably over the years and it has taken approximately 75 days in the year 2021 against the maximum of 105 days as prescribed in EIA Notification, 2006,” he said.
To add to it, the ministry is now also conducting meeting of the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for Environmental Impact Assessment of projects under consideration twice a month.
“Various initiatives have also been taken by the Ministry towards necessary amendments in the policies and regulations to ensure transparent and simplified process of EC without compromising on rigor of the environmental concerns,” Choubey added further.
“Currently, there are around 172 proposals belonging to various State/UT, including one Environmental Clearance (EC) proposal received from Punjab and three EC proposals from Bihar, for grant of EC are being dealt at the Central level. No EC proposal is pending from the district Bhagalpur in Bihar at central level,” the minister informed the House.
The MPs had also sought information if the government had conducted any study to assess the losses due to the delay in granting clearances.
The statement comes at a time when the government is considering introduction of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2022 in the ongoing session of Parliament. The proposed bill is at the centre of the storm, with tribal organisations from several states demanding its withdrawal since it “facilitates easy and faster forest clearances for non-forestry purposes".
In its latest letter to the ministry, Campaign for Survival and Dignity, an organisation representing tribal and forest dwellers from as many as 18 states, said the FC Rules, 2022 come in a background of a series of major legal changes either proposed or implemented by the Central Government and the Environment Ministry for easing business-amendments.
They also drew attention to how the diversion of forest land has also nearly doubled from 6,000 hectares to 10,000 hectares a year since 2014, averaging 25,000 to 30,000 hectares during the period from 2009-2019.
According to the data provided by the government on Monday, during the past three years (2019-20 to 2021-22) a total 52932.06 ha of forest land has been diverted.
In a separate question, the minister told the House that the Central Government accords prior approval for non-forestry use of the forest land under the provisions laid down in the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. Forest land is diverted only for unavoidable site specific developmental projects, he added.