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Council on Energy, Environment and Water Integrated | International | Independent
Report

State of Environmental Clearances in IndiaProcedures, Timelines, and Delays Across Sectors and States

Vaibhav Chaturvedi, Vaibhav Gupta, Nirmalya Choudhury, Sonali Mittra, Arunabha Ghosh, Rudresh Sugam
October 2014 | Industrial Sustainability & Competitiveness

Suggested Citation: Chaturvedi, Vaibhav, Vaibhav Gupta, Nirmalya Choudhury, Sonali Mittra, Arunabha Ghosh, and Rudresh Sugam. 2014. State of Environmental Clearances in India: Procedures, Timelines, and Delays Across Sectors and States. New Delhi: Council on Energy Environment and Water.

Overview

This report takes stock of the state of environmental clearances in India, and analyses aspects of the process of securing environmental and forest clearance that need attention and how can these be addressed. The study tries to deconstruct and comprehend the perceptions around environmental clearances as barriers to development, and identify particular states or industries where the challenges are more acute.

The trade-offs between economic development and environmental protection form a critical area for developing countries aspiring for high growth rates to navigate. Within India, ‘green clearances’, legislative instruments put in place to balance such trade-offs, have been subject to severe criticism for deterring industrial development processes and impacting economic growth.

Using a database of approved and uncleared projects from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), the report analyses the average time taken by projects for getting the required ‘green clearances’, and focuses on a sample of 120 projects to understand the key reasons for delays in the clearance process. It also provides a list of highly polluting industry as per the government's classification.

Key Findings

  • A large part of projects across sectors, especially under the industrial category (90 per cent), are pending due to forest clearances.
  • As per the report’s definition of delays (940 days), 40-60 per cent of projects in thermal power, hydropower, coal mining, and nuclear power sectors have faced delays at the Environmental Impact Assessment stage during public hearings, and submission of required data and information to the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), the oversight committee in charge of approving clearances.
  • In Bihar, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and the North-eastern states, 60 -70 per cent of projects have been in the clearance pipeline for at least two years since their date of application, and many of these have been in the waiting process for more than three years.
  • Non-compliance with the Terms of Reference, incorrect information submission, insufficient data analysis, and submission of wrong or out-dated forms featured regularly across the 120 projects reviewed in the EAC meeting reports.
  • Delays in approvals from other ministries or departments as per the project requirements added significantly to delays in the overall approval process, especially for coal mining, hydropower, and nuclear power projects. These approvals ranged from that of the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs), the Ministry of Coal, state revenue departments, Panchayat Committees, etc.
  • The three main problems identified were: delays during the process of data and information collection for the IEA and document submissions; issues related to the public hearing process; and issues related to information management for effective delivery of the environmental clearance process.

Key Recommendations

  • Create an Environmental Clearance Service Cell within the MoEFCC to assist project developers in adhering to the specified guidelines and to coordinate clearances across various departments and ministries, and to manage a detailed information system aimed at regular monitoring and analysis of.
  • Overhaul the public hearing process to a long-term public participation process that seeks to build public trust, address concerns, and institutionalise Environmental Impact Assessments for smoother conclusions.
  • Create an Environmental Clearance Information System within the MoEFCC for regular reporting, analysis, and monitoring of projects, projects at the individual as well as macro level across all categories.

Delays in the clearance process cannot solely be blamed on the extant laws or administrative barriers. Non-compliance, incorrect submissions, and insufficient analysis feature regularly as hinderances to a quick clearance process.

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