We put environment and growth on an equal footing: Prakash Javadekar

Minister for Environment Prakash Javadekar
Minister for Environment, Prakash Javadekar tells Aditi Phadnis the draft Environment Impact Assessment plan protects the environment while keeping court judgments and growth compulsions in its sights. Edited Excerpts:

Q: For several projects, public consultation has been done away with altogether in the process of seeking environmental clearance. In some, the period of consultation has been truncated. Why? How does reducing the consultation period from 30 days to 20 have any impact on ease of doing business?

Ans: The notification issued in 2006 says Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and public hearing is not necessary for buildings up to 150,000 square metres. So even today, EIA is not required as per 2006 notification. What we have done is, we have reduced this facility up to 50,000 sq m only. And we are proposing that only green buildings will get this concession up to 150,000 sq m. 

Q: But this does not take into account those people whose livelihood could be affected…

Ans: No, no, one minute. We have not changed the existing 2006 provision. 

Q: There are many who believe that the 2006 provision itself was flawed...

Ans: That is a different thing. But we have not changed anything from 2006. So people who were silent in 2006, now they can’t raise objections like this, no? Only because we have done it?

Q: There is also an amnesty for violations… 

Ans: What is this violations business? Let me explain. You are asking about post-facto violation. Somebody builds something that violates environment rules and then seeks post-facto approval. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government issued three Office Memoranda (OM) in 2010, 2012 and 2013. And through these three Office Memoranda, they gave post-facto sanction with just a fine under the Environment Protection Act (EPA), that is, Rs 1 lakh. So, they have done it thrice. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) quashed that, saying Office Memoranda cannot override notifications. 

There are three court decisions also. The Jharkhand High Court said you cannot just not consider the application of any industry just because they had not sought permission in time, earlier. You have to consider – and consider it on merit. The Supreme Court gave two decisions. One, they said closure is not the answer. You consider that on merit, but the EC issued. So what happens between today and the prospective EC when they will get complete clearance under the EC process? They will have to complete the whole EC process and they will get EC thereafter, only for the prospective period. So what happens to the period in between?

The period in between will be dealt with severely with very heavy late fees – because that is the power we have under Section 15 of Environment Protection Act – and there will be heavy charges of environmental degradation or environmental damages that the project has inflicted. So we want to bring all the entities within the regulatory regime. You can’t keep thousands of industries out of the regulatory regime because they have not taken permission. And the court says, closure is not the answer. You must consider it on merit. So taking directions from these three court orders, we have incorporated the spirit of these orders in this. We have done nothing new.

Q: So how will the government deal with violations?

Ans: Today also, the latest case is Leela Hotels. They had done violation so there was a violation window open: in 2010 also, 2012 also, 2013 also and a few months in our time also. 

So what did we do? They have been penalised to the tune of Rs 7.5 crore, to do environmental work in their area. They proposed something. And then, when the file came to me, it was 70 items of Rs 10 lakh each. I said, nothing doing, you do concrete things. Now they are establishing 50 computer training centres in 50 habitats nearby. So that’s a concrete job. And they are putting solar panels in people’s houses – 300 houses. I think this is the way forward. 

Q: But the trees have already been cut, the soil has already been eroded, the fish might be dying…

Ans: One minute. For each tree cut or removed, you have to plant five trees. The best example of sustainable development and environmental protection is the Delhi Metro. For each station, they may have removed five to 10 trees. But they have planted five times as many trees. 

Q: But what about the case of Leela Hotel and the damage it has already inflicted?

Ans: One minute, one minute. And now you have five million people being transported in an environment-friendly manner, saving 500,000 cars on roads. So this is the best example of growth and sustainable growth where you are protecting nature, the number of trees has increased…otherwise, they would not have planted. But they planted, the trees grew… so there is that provision. And, at the same time there is environment-friendly travel for five million people every day. It’s not a small thing. 

Q: This is going forward. But what about past lapses?

Ans: The Supreme Court said closing down industry is not the answer. And the Jharkhand High Court said you must consider their cases on merit. So with these two orders, what can you do? If you were in my position, what would you have done? 

These are court order. We are just following the court orders. And we will be levying heavy penalties. And the EC will not be given post facto and retrospectively but prospectively. By due diligence, they will have to go to EAC, EIA, and will have to give an Environment Management Plan. These are all compulsory for them. So they will have to go through the rigour and then they will get Environment Clearance prospectively. For the period in between, they will be heavily fined. 

And my question is simple. In 2010, 2012 and 2013 the same kind of office memoranda were issued. Nobody raised objections at that time. 

Q: One argument is that if nobody raised it then, they should raise it now…

Ans: Then there is a problem, no? Three times, you don’t raise objections and you wake up only at the fourth review…and that too after the Supreme Court order. Otherwise, our option was to close them down. And we were ready to close down. The issue is, they court said, closure is not an option.

Q: There is a sense among environmentalists that you are pro-industry at any cost, even damage to the environment. Industry believes you have given in to the environmentalists at the cost of growth. Which is true?

Ans: we put environment and growth at an equal footing. 

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