Welcome directive

The Supreme Court  has made a welcome directive to the Central government to set up a national regulatory authority to deal with environment impact assessment and clearance processes involved in major industrial and other projects. The court had told the government to constitute such an authority in a 2011 case but the government had not yet acted in the matter.

 The new authority has to be set up within two months. It will also have its units at the state level. It will hopefully remove many deficiencies in the process of sanctioning of projects. Confusion and delays in granting projects have affected many projects and there is a strong view that an agency that deals exclusively with environment impact assessment would help to solve many problems. Union environment and forests minister Jayanthi Natarajan’s resignation is considered to have been caused by the failure of the ministry to take speedy and efficient decisions relating to clearances.

The setting up of the authority, however, does not mean that environmental concerns will take a back seat in project clearances. On the contrary, being a statutory body set up to protect environmental interests its first responsibility will be to ensure that these are not neglected. Having independent powers and expertise to study environmental issues it is expected to take fair and transparent decisions. It is known that at present conflicting interests and lobbies of both the industry and environment enthusiasts try to influence the decisions of the government. The process is not immune to political pressures too. The lack of timely decisions on and postponement of many projects were because of this. Standard rules and guidelines will be employed by the authority to study the impact of projects and arrive at decisions which will be binding on the government. The authority will also have the power to take action and impose penalties on those who violate environmental norms.
 The industry has sometimes complained that the committees formed by the government to assess projects were dominated by those who were known to oppose them. On the other side the court has noted that evaluation has sometimes been made on the basis of the data provided by the industry. An independent judgment taken by a neutral authority will help to eliminate or minimise these complaints. Regulators in other areas have done well and the proposed authority should improve the decision-making process in this important area too.

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