Govt to hold only ‘consultants’ accountable for inadequate environmental clearance

Ministry has let the project proponents free of the accountability for EIA irregularities.

Credit : Sabrang India

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has released an Office Memorandum stating that if the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) consultants appointed by project proponents fail to produce an adequate EIA report, they will have to face a show cause notice. The decision was made during a meeting held to review the Environmental Clearance (EC) process. This has drawn criticism from the environmentalist activist community as the Ministry has only held the EIA consultants accountable for the EC process, without the project proponents.

During a review meeting of the EC process, the authorities noticed that the divisions had to seek additional details regarding EIA from the consultants due to the non-compliance of the Terms of Reference (ToRs). In such cases, the Ministry said that a show cause notice would be issued to the concerned consultant.

However, environmentalists have stated that it would be incomplete to hold just the consultants accountable. “For a few years, the EC process had a provision wherein the project proponents had to give a written certificate that they own the submitted EIA report. They had to take responsibility for the EIA of their project. Then why not make them take responsibility for irregularities in the EIA report as well?” questions activist Shripad Dharmadhikary of Manthan Adhyayan Kendra.

He also adds that the kind of penalty that would be enforced on the defaulters needs to be defined. “The consultants, as well as the project proponents, need to be made to revisit the ToRs. In cases of repeated offence, the project must be delisted. Just a show cause notice would not suffice,” Dharmadhikary says.

Activists and experts have time and again pointed out the farce that the union ministry has made out of the EC process, whittling it down with each new notification, turning it into more in favour of the project proponents. A couple of months ago, the MoEF&CC had decided that the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for the EC process would meet twice a month, instead of the previous one meeting a month, in order to expedite the EC. This decision had also received flak, as the EC does not have an adequate number of members to meet even once a month. As Indie Journal had reported at the time, EAC was already overwhelmed with the project files that it had to go through once a month, and even fewer members would attend the meeting twice, as none of them are full-time EAC members.