Graft in projects' approval irks PM

Addressing a national conference of state ministers of environment and forests here, Singh said: “Environmental clearances have become a new form of licence raj and a source of corruption. This is a matter that needs to be addressed head-on.”

Admitting that the country was being confronted with multiple environmental crises, Singh said trade-offs had to be made while balancing developmental and environmental concerns. Singh, however, said the procedures to obtain green permits must be fair, transparent and hassle-free. Currently, project developers require clearances under the Environment Protection Act of 1986 and Forest Conservation Act of 1980. The maximum time frame under the first Act is 210 days, while it is 150 days under the second Act.

However, this process often takes months with little transparency. Also, allegations of corruption fly thick.

There were discrepancies in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, and an effort was made in 2006 to rationalise the system.

But the 2006 EIA notification drew flak from environmentalists who described it as too industry-friendly.

“We can improve the (EIA) system further in the light of the experience gained. I would urge all states which have not yet established state EIA authorities to do so at the earliest,” Singh said.

He added India was facing multiple environmental crises ranging from climate change, impending drought, water scarcity and pollution. But none of the problems are insurmountable if the Centre and states work together.

The chief ministers have been asked to fill vacancies in forest and wildlife departments. The chief ministers and environment ministers have been told to prepare state-level action plans to tackle climate change.

The states have approved the setting up of a National Environment Protection Authority (NEPA) that will enforce strict compliance with environmental standards.

The Centre has distributed Rs 400 crore from the compensatory afforestation fund to ten states for restoring forests. Karnataka’s share is Rs 70 crore. This is the first disbursement from the Rs 11,000-crore Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) fund, which was locked in banks for seven years on account of a Supreme Court directive. The CAMPA fund was unlocked last month, and the apex court permitted disbursement of about Rs 1,000 crore in the first year.

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