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Environment ministry's Expert Appraisal Committee should be renamed Expert Approval Committee

 

Some months back leading news magazine India Today termed minister for environment and forests Jayanthi Natarajan and her predecessor Jairam Ramesh as ‘Green Terrorists’. The report claimed “outdated environmental laws and inflexible ministers strangle Indian economy”.

An analysis of MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Project would suggest neither Natarajan nor Ramesh deserve the moniker of ‘green terrorists’. Neither of them is an ‘ecological warrior’. Far from it, the two during their tenures as the minister in-charge at Delhi’s Paryavaran Bhavan have bent over backwards to clear nearly all projects.

 

Quite the contrary!

But India Today's would be surprised to find that the Expert Approval Committee on River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects has zero rejection in six years.

MoEF Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects (RVP) has considered a total of 262 hydropower and irrigation projects in close to six years since April 2007 when the new committee was set up to its latest 63rd meeting in December 2012.

An elaborate analysis of the minutes of the 63 meetings of the EAC of MoEF for RVP shows that it has not rejected any project in this period. Even in case of the two projects that it declined to recommend clearance for the Terms of Reference (TOR) of their Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), it basically asked the developers to come back with reformulated proposals. It seems the committee is actually an Expert Approval Committee, since it seems to have expertise in approving rather than appraising the projects objectively.

The analysis shows that contrary to the impression given by some including the Prime Minister (talking about license raj), PMO (viewing MoEF as road block to development and investment) and others spreading the impression that MoEF is Green Terror, road blocking development projects, this analysis highlights that reality is completely contrary to this:  that the EAC and MoEF have been pro-projects, pro-private developers, at the cost of ecology and local communities.

 The analysis highlights that in less than 6 years, the EAC has recommended TORC (Terms of Reference Clearance of stage 1clearance) for hydropower projects proposed with installed capacity of 49458 MW, which is about 25% more than what India has installed in about 66 years since independence.

During the period, the EAC has recommended EC (final Environmental Clearance) for hydropower capacity of 16084.5 MW, which is about three times the hydro capacity of 5544 MW added during the just concluded 11thfive year Plan. During the period, EAC has given TORC for 3.28 million ha of CCA and EC for 1.59 million Ha of CCA. Here we should note that since 1991-92, there has been no addition to the net area irrigated by major and medium irrigation projects at all India level as per Govt of India figures. In light of that fact and considering the overcapacity already built into a number of basins across India already, such clearances by EAC are highly questionable.

The analysis concludes that:

ï‚·   During these 63 meetings, EAC has had zero rejection rate. It has not rejected any of the projects that came to it for environmentclearances.

ï‚·   The EAC did not give the TOR clearances to two projects, but closer reading shows that these are only temporary "NO"s, so even these are not rejections.

ï‚·   The EAC has never rejected final Environment Clearance to any project. 

ï‚·   Even when other committees have recommended that certain projects not be cleared, the EAC has found reasons to reject such recommendations. 

ï‚·   Many of the projects thus approved by the EAC have been rejected by other statutory authorities, mostly for reasons that were within the mandate of EAC. 

ï‚·   The EAC has never rejected any EIA, or asked for fresh public hearings, even when EAC was given evidence of serious deficiencies in the EIA or public hearing process. 

ï‚·   From the analysis of the meeting it seems the EAC has shown strong pro project, anti environment and anti people bias.

ï‚·   The functioning of EAC has seen violations of legal, environmental and EAC's own norms, inconsistencies and lack of appreciation of key issues like cumulative impact assessment, biodiversity impact assessment, services provided by the rivers, carrying capacity, environment flows and comprehensive social impact assessment.

ï‚·   EAC has somehow refused to make amends in its minutes or refused to review its decisions even when significant errors have been brought to its attention.

 

As the EAC on River Valley Projects meets for the first time in the New Year on Feb 1-2, 2013, we have sent these documents to the EAC, including concerned MoEF officials, requesting their attention to the analysis, its conclusions and feedback. We believe this analysis provides a picture about how the EAC been functioning for the last six years and also provides and opportunity for course correction where necessary.

 

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