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Our broken system of environmental clearance

  • IAS NEXT, Lucknow
  • 02, Feb 2022
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The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has announced that it will rank the state environmental impact assessment authorities based on seven different criteria, which would exhibit their efficiency/on the speed at which environmental approvals are given. This received criticisms from all sides, leading the Ministry to state some clarifications – 

  • The move is aimed at encouraging the efficiency, transparency and accountability in the functioning of SEIAAs without diluting any regulatory safeguards. 
  • No SEIAA will be penalised for taking more time in granting permission. The SEIAAs are responsible for providing permissions and environmental clearance for more than 90 per cent infrastructure, developmental and industrial projects in the country, once they assess that these projects have little environmental impact.
  • The ministry has taken several initiatives for streamlining the EC (environmental clearance) process and reduce the undue time taken in grant of clearances. As a step further new rating of SEIAAs has been introduced for encouraging the efficiency, transparency and accountability in the functioning of SEIAAs.

Why did it face backlash?

  • Undermines the role of regulatory oversight in environmental protection — recognised in several Supreme Court verdicts as one of the key instruments to ensure the right to life.
  • The ranking exercise will compromise the SEIAAs’ mandate to assess the impact of industrial, real estate and mining schemes on the environment and lead to an unhealthy competition amongst these agencies to swiftly clear projects without due diligence.

Instances where the Ministry has chipped away at key environmental regulation

  • Extended the deadline for compliance with emission norms for most thermal power plants from 2022 to 2025 and planned to reduce the ecological protection accorded to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. 
  • Diluted the Coastal Zone Notification and proposed to amend the Forest Conservation Act to allow the use of forests for infrastructural projects in areas of “strategic importance”.
  • Granted relaxations include thermal power plants, manufacturing and mining of coal, minerals and ordinary earth for linear projects. 

Other Challenges

  • Inadequate capabilities: Lack of trained EIA professionals often leads to the preparation of inadequate and irrelevant EIA reports.
  • Public Consultation: Public comments are not considered at an early stage, which often leads to conflict at a later stage of project clearance.
  • Neglect of indigenous knowledge: The data collectors do not pay respect to the indigenous knowledge of local people.
  • Communication issues: Most reports in English and not in the local language. Hence, local people do not understand the intricacies of the report.
  • Poor review or monitoring:  EIA review is not up to the mark. The review agency called Impact Assessment Agency (IAA) lacks inter-disciplinary capacity.
  • Corruption: There are so many cases of fraudulent EIA studies where erroneous data has been used, same facts used for two totally different places etc.
  • Distorted Focus: The focus of EIA needs to shift from utilization and exploitation of natural resources to conservation of natural resources.
  • Exempt Categories: For defence and national security installations, the EMP (Environment Management Plan) are often kept confidential for political and administrative reasons.
  • Considered as impediment to the ease of doing business: Industries and business interests have long regarded EIA as a thorn in their side increasing their transaction cost and complicating the business process.


At a time when climate change is driving home the ecological fragility of large parts of India and pollution and water scarcity are taking a serious toll on the well-being of people in cities, towns, and villages, regulatory bodies require enabling policies to perform their tasks with rigour. The grading exercise, instead, reduces them to clearing houses. The Centre must rethink its move.