New assessment by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) finds unprecedented scale of clearances being given by the ministry of environment to industrial projects in the last five years
“Are forest and environmental clearances the problems for growth? Or is it the other way around—are these a problem for environmental protection?” asks CSE director general Sunita Narain
Says present system of granting clearances clearly not working. Calls for better regulations and more effective monitoring
New Delhi, September 22, 2011: For some time now, industry, government and regulatory agencies have been persistently talking about how environmental regulations have throttled the country’s growth. They have raged on about how the system of forest and environment clearances has forced India’s credit ratings to its nadir. And they have bitterly complained about how environmentalists were holding the country and its people to ransom.
All of which is unadulterated hogwash, says a new assessment by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
CSE has done a comprehensive analysis of environment and forest clearances granted by the Indian government in the period of the 11th Five Year Plan – from 2007 till August 2011. The study looks at five key sectors – thermal power, hydropower, cement, iron and steel and mining – and comes out with hard data to prove that the scale of clearances has been nothing less than “unprecedented”.
“Environmental regulations are seen as impeding growth, but where is the impediment? We are finding that despite all the browbeating, almost every project is getting cleared with frightening consistency, making a complete mockery of our regulatory systems,” said Sunita Narain, CSE director general, while releasing the assessment report here today.
What the assessment has found
In the period between 2007 and August 2011, 8,284 projects were granted forest clearance and 2,03,576 hectare (ha) of forest land was diverted.
This diversion is about 25 per cent of all forest land diverted for development projects since 1981. The pace of forest land diversion, therefore, has doubled in the last five years.
In one single year – 2009 – as much as 87,883.67 ha of forest land was granted clearance.
The area of forest land diverted is equal to the average area of two tiger reserves, and about four times the area of a Panna or a Tadoba tiger reserve.
A large proportion of this forest land (50,000 ha) has been diverted for mining and power projects. The maximum amount of forest land diverted for mining in any single year happened in 2010 – about 14,500 ha.
Coal mining accounted for more than half of all the forest land diverted for mining. As many as 113 coal mining projects were granted forest clearance -- the highest number cleared in any five year plan since 1981.
181 coal mines, 267 thermal power plants, 200 coal-based thermal power plants, 188 steel plants and 106 cement units have been accorded clearance. This enormous splurge has led to a doubling of capacity in almost all sectors. However, almost all of this capacity remains unutilized.
Makings of a scam – do we really need all this capacity?
The 11th Five Year Plan projects a target of 50,000 megawatt (MW) of additional thermal power capacity; the 12th plan asks for 100,000 MW. In the past five years, till August 2011, the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has granted environmental clearance to an astounding 210,000 MW of thermal power capacity -- in other words, 60,000 MW more than what has been proposed till 2017! Worse, the capacity actually added is a mere 32,394 MW.
Coal India Limited (CIL) produces over 90 per cent of India’s coal; it has under its control over 200,000 ha of mine lease, including 55,000 ha of forest area. The estimated coal reserves with CIL are 64 billion tonnes, and the company produces 500 million tonnes per annum. Who is then responsible for the shortage of coal in the country?
Or are coal mining clearances just another way to facilitate access to captive coal mining by private companies? Today, many private companies have got coal mines, but have not started production. While the coal ministry has warned some companies to immediately develop their mines or face de-allocation, the minister of coal is on record demanding that environmental clearances be removed so that coal production is not jeopardised – something that the B K Chaturvedi committee has recommended (see attached Extracts from the committee’s report).
Asks Chandra Bhushan, CSE’s deputy director general and the lead author of this assessment: “Why is the ministry giving so many clearances? Why are projects that are already cleared not being implemented first before more clearances can be given? Is this some kind of a new scam to take over the land and water of the people?”
Cumulative impact: is anyone bothered?
No -- many projects have been granted clearances in already critically polluted areas such as Singrauli, Korba, Raigadh and Hazaribagh. Says Bhushan: “Currently, all projects are cleared individually, without once assessing the cumulative impact on the region or district. It is clear that once operational, these projects will make life hell for the people and the environment.”
Take the case of coal mining. All coal mining areas are heavily polluted, and most coal mining companies have very poor environment management record: many of these places fall under the category of critically polluted areas (CPA). Monitoring by pollution control authorities shows about one-third of operating coal mines are violating all environmental norms. Despite this, coal mining projects in CPAs are being given the go-ahead quite regularly (see Factsheet 1 on Overview).
It is the same story in the case of coal-based thermal power projects. Of the top 10 districts where environmental clearance has been granted to these projects, six were declared as already critically polluted.
The MoEF has recently issued guidelines for monitoring of projects. Says Narain: “Nobody knows how this monitoring system works. In the case of forests, there is some compiled information. But this only proves that monitoring is poor and worse, what little is monitored is found not to meet conditions.”
As per statistics compiled by the CSE study, of the 22,264 cases granted forest clearance, only 12,225 were monitored (90 per cent of which were in only two states); 5,091 of these were found to be non-compliant. There is no information on what action was taken against them.
What needs to be done: the CSE agenda
Forest clearances: Stop this process until a transparent and effective system is put into place.
No further clearances in cases where clearances exceed targets and capacity.
In the case of thermal power and coal projects, ministry of power should assess why so much of the cleared capacity is awaiting commissioning. Cancel those projects which have got clearance but have not yet been commissioned. The MoEF can then consider granting the same capacity as a swap.
MoEF must use this moratorium period to strengthen and improve its regulatory procedures as per the recommendations of the Supreme Court in the recent Lafarge judgement (see attached printout of the judgement).
Strengthen the public hearing process, which is critical to ‘listen and hear’ people affected by the projects.
MoEF must revise its Environmental Impact Assessment Notification to stipulate that it will only clear projects after considering the cumulative impact.
Strengthen, not dismantle, the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI), which allows scrutiny of projects based on cumulative impact.
Strengthen monitoring procedures so that affected people can scrutinise the compliance conditions.
For any further details and information, please contact Souparno Banerjee on 9910864339, or write to him at email@example.com