WHY ENVIRONMENTAL PROJECTS REQUIRE A NATIONAL REGULATOR

By: Tejaswini Ranjan

An issue which has raked in a lot of limelight about the environment policies in India is the setting up of a National Regulatory body.  The body will be entrusted with job to oversee the forest policy making and to frame rules and regulations whenever required. The Supreme Court has directed the Centre to set up a National Regulator that would take up comprehensive and independent environmental projects. It is also expected to enforce the necessary conditions for the approval of projects and also for the imposition of penalties on regulators. This direction was previously given by the apex court in the year 2011. The judgment given then was with respect to the Lafarge case. This regulation is much needed since the Environment Protection Act does not impose any civil liability on the environment polluters.

Lafarge Umiam Mining Private Limited v. Union of India & Ors. [(2011) 7 SCC 338]

Under Section 3(3) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, the court has asked the Central Government to appoint a National Regulator for appraising projects, enforcing environmental conditions for approvals and to impose penalties on polluters. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has also been directed to prepare a Panel of Accredited Institutions from which alone the project proponent should obtain the permission based on the Terms of Reference to be framed by the MoEF. The project proponents are thereby prescribed to comply with the Office Memorandum dated 26.4.2011 issued by the MoEF which requires that all mining projects involving forests and for such non-mining projects which involve more than 40 hectares of forests, the project proponent shall submit the documents which have been enumerated in the said Memorandum.

The guidelines further suggest the inspection of project sites, setting up new regional offices and strengthening their functioning. The directions also suggest the constitution of Regional Empowered Committee, under the Chairmanship of the concerned Chief Conservator of Forests (Central). Different institutions are also required to be set up according to the standards of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. It also directs the Ministry to document regular updates of all the developments which occur in relation to the same. The main purpose behind this mandate is to ensure public accountability.

It makes public consultation a mandatory requirement of the environment clearance process and provides an effective forum for any person aggrieved by any aspect of any project to register and seek redressal of his/her grievances. The guidelines also entrust the MoEF with a duty to prepare a comprehensive policy for inspection, verification and monitoring and the overall procedure relating to the grant of forest clearances and identification of forests in consultation with the States.

What to expect from this directive?

The current system is a system of delays. It is highly disorganized and inefficient. At present, the bodies which appraise the projects are the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) at the Centre and its counterparts at the state level. These are temporary bodies; hence they lack continuity and consistency in decision making. As a result, around 1000 projects are pending.

Thus, the new direction has made a step to separate the political process from the clearance granting step. The clearance for any Environment Project will not depend upon the response of any minister after the regulator is set up. Evidently, this will bring about a system change and prevent the government from abusing its powers. 

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