New Delhi, Jan 27 : Urging to revoke the new ranking framework incentivising state authorities to clear projects without due environmental compliance, Lok Sabha MP from Assam, Pradyut Bordoloi has warned the Environment Minister that the northeast will suffer further if environmental regulation is weakened.
Bordoloi expressed his concerns about the recent move to "incentivise" State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) through a ranking based on efficiency and speed in which environmental clearance are granted through a letter to the Union Minister for Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, Bhupender Yadav.
"As per the parameters provided, state authorities would be ranked higher for granting clearances in shorter periods of time, seeking fewer essential details and conducting fewer sight visits. This will lead to clearance of projects without due diligence at a time when India is seeing worsening air and water quality, an eight-year-low in forest cover growth by the government's own record and a decline in forest cover as suggested by independent reports," he said.
Bordoloi's letter came in response to the January 18 Office Memo brought out by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) that offered incentives to the states through rating their respective Environment Impact Assessments (EIA) authorities based on how fast they grant clearance to projects.
"This endeavour to fast-track environmental clearances will have disastrous impacts, especially on the North-East Region, which is already seeing intensified loss of forests and tree cover, as per the recently published India State of Forest Report 2021 (ISFR2021). Home to some of the richest biodiversity, in India and world over, it is concerning that the NE states report the highest reduction in forest cover. Weakening the environmental regulation in this situation will not only have adverse effects on biodiversity, but also on many communities in the region whose lives and livelihoods are intrinsically linked to the environment," the Congress leader said.
While balancing economic, social, and environmental interests are crucial, SEIAAs have a specific mandate to safeguard the environment, which will be undermined by this ranking framework, Bordoloi said, adding, "Our efforts, instead, should be geared towards strengthening the mandate of SEIAAs so that they may function independent of business interest and focus on upholding environment protection." Appealing that the quality, rather than quantity, in appraisals be encouraged coupled with higher transparency, the MP from Assam's Nagaon said: "This ranking framework SEIAAs is in violation of the Environment (Protect) Act 1986 as well as the Constitutional obligation towards protection of the environment." The government has already clarified that the EIA Notification already provides time-lines for all EC processes and that there is no negative marking proposed for not meeting the criteria for ranking.a