MoEF has made mess of granting clearances to industries, says NGT

Accuses ministry of making companies wait 3 yrs to get permission

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Monday ticked off the environment ministry for making a “mess” of granting forest clearance to industries, accusing it of  keeping companies waiting for at least two-three years.

In strong observations during the hearing of arguments in the matter of Posco’s Rs 51,000 crore steel project in Odisha, the NGT said the whole process of granting permission has been made complex by the ministry, and wondered whether this will help in sustainable development.

A bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar also questioned the concept of two stage forest clearance granted by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) to industries.

It asked the ministry how the concept is in conformity with the Forest Conservation Act, noting that “the Act does not contemplate two stages of clearance”.

Process made complex

The tribunal also brushed aside the MoEF’s contentions that the guidelines have been issued to promote the object of the Act and that the concept of two stage clearance was evolved for administrative purposes. “What administration? You are creating a mess. You take two-three years to grant clearances while industries are kept waiting. Is this sustainable development? Your whole process has been made so complex. You have made a mess of things. It (guidelines) does not promote anything,” the bench said.

The remarks were made by the tribunal while hearing arguments on whether a plea challenging forest clearance of South Korean major Posco’s steel project in Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha was filed too late.

Senior advocate Raj Panjwani, who appeared for the petitioner Prafulla Samantara, an environmentalist, said the plea has not been filed too late as cutting of each tree is a fresh cause of action. He also argued there is apprehension that more trees would be cut and in such circumstances, the plea is not barred by time.

Within six months

Under the NGT Act, a plea has to be filed within six months of when the cause of action arises. Posco, on the other hand, contended that since September 2011 it has not cut a single tree and added that the site in question is a sandy beach and not a natural forest area.

Posco said the area is a man-made forest as casuarina bushes were planted to prevent soil erosion and they cannot be classified as trees.

During the proceedings, Panjwani also argued that since Posco’s environment clearance for the project has expired and is yet to be revalidated, it cannot cut trees.

“Both forest and environment clearance should be subsisting for you to touch or cut even a single tree,” he said.

On May 28, the NGT had ordered status quo to be maintained regarding cutting of trees at the project site. The tribunal’s order came on Samantra’s plea opposing felling of trees at the project site.

Posco was granted environment clearance for its project in 2007. On March 30 last year, the environment clearance granted to it was suspended by the green tribunal, which had directed the MoEF to review the clearance afresh.

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