Green nod puts environment at stake
In the last five years, the Centre has gone on an overdrive granting environment and forest clearance to infrastructure projects.
In the process lakhs of hectares of forest lands have been allocated for thermal power plants and coal mines.† Large amount of water meant for irrigation has been diverted to power plants without even analysing the cumulative impact of these approvals on environment.
Between 2007 and August 2011, the Union environment ministry accorded forest clearance to 8284 projects diverting 2,03,576 hectares of forest land. In one single year – 2009 – as much as 87,883.67 ha of forest land was allowed to be diverted for industrial project.
The ministry gave environmental clearance to 181 coal projects, 267 thermal power plants, 188 steel plants and 106 cement plants. The approval given in all these sectors is much more than the 12th plan period target. While Jairam Ramesh was the environment minister since June 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held the environment portfolio for close to two years, before Ramesh took charge. In those five years, five industrial sectors – cement, coal mining, iron and steel, thermal power plants and other mining – have been allocated a whopping 8.3 billion cubic meters of water per year, which is equal to what is needed to provide 100 litres of water per day to 250 million people – about one-fifth of India’s population. The same five sectors were also granted 3.8 lakh ha of land. C apacity in almost each of these sectors has been doubled though many projects are yet to start off the block. For instance even though the ministry approved 210,000 MW capacity – 60,000 MW more than the 12th plan target – the capacity addition in 11th plan actually is 32,394 MW.
“Why offer so much licenses when installed capacity is so low. And it is only the tip of the iceberg as we analysed only central approvals. States grant licenses for projects requiring less than 50 ha areas,” said Sunita Narain, head of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in Delhi, which analysied the approvals in a systemic manner. In the last five years, as many as 24 thermal power plants with a total capacity of 19500 MW was sanctioned on Mahanadi river and its tributaries in Orissa. The total water consumed by these projects is 1.55 million cubic metre per day.
“This will kill the river. Yet there is no cumulative environmental assessment,” said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general at CSE. Despite an unprecedented number of environment and forest clearances were granted in the last five years, Sunita said adding that there were still clamour for further clearances and doing away with green laws in approving the coal mines.
A CSE analysis suggests Coal India Limited, which produces over 90 per cent of India’s coal, has under its control over 200,000 ha of mine lease, including 55,000 ha of forest area. The estimated coal reserves with CIL are 64 billion tonnes, and the company produces 500 million tonnes per annum.