CAG report points to discrepancies in environmental clearances

A recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on ‘Environmental clearance and post clearance monitoring’ states that “the existing processes for grant of environmental clearance suffered from various procedural deficiencies. This performance audit report (report no 39 of 2016 for the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) looked at whether the process of grant of environmental clearance was carried out in a timely and transparent manner, in respect of environmental clearances granted during the period 2011-2015.

MoEF&CC’s regulatory and promotional measures which include establishment of procedures for environmental impact assessment and granting clearance for various types of projects were examined. The report also looked at the monitoring of compliance with the environmental clearance conditions by the concerned agencies for the clearances granted during the period 2008-2012.

The report indicates that the environment impact assessment process suffers from various lacunae that are procedural in nature. This led to delays in grant of environmental clearances. Further, each project was treated singularly for environment impact assessment but cumulative impact study/assessment was found lacking. Project proponents did not adhere to compliance of environmental clearance conditions.

The CAG report reveals that there were discrepancies such as inclusion of Category B projects along with Category A projects, sectoral misclassification and wrong depiction of location of projects. As per the schedule to EIA Notification 2006, prior environmental clearance is required from MoEF&CC for projects falling under Category ‘A’ projects and from the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority for projects falling under Category ‘B’.

The public accounts watchdog found out that in just 14 percent of the total of 216 projects the terms of reference was granted within the prescribed time limit of 60 days, in others there were delays up to 365 days. As per the report “delays were observed at various stages like scrutiny of the final environment impact assessment reports, appraisal of the application by the expert appraisal committee, placing the recommendations of the expert appraisal committee before the competent authority, conveying the recommendations of expert appraisal committee and the decision of the Ministry to the project proponent”.

In a quarter of the projects, the environment impact assessment reports did not comply with the terms of reference. Also, cumulative impact studies were not made mandatory before preparing the environment impact assessment reports with the result that the impact of a number of projects in a region on the ecosystem was not known. There was no independent regulator for independent, objective and transparent appraisal and approval of the projects for environmental clearances and to monitor the implementation of the conditions the CAG noted.

There was no provision to ensure that the concerns of the local people were included in the final environment impact assessment report/environmental clearance letter. The public hearing process did not have quorum requirement and qualification of residency to participate. Commitments made by project proponents in Environment Impact Assessment report during public hearing was also not monitored.  Besides, the reservations expressed during the public hearings were not included in the environment impact assessment reports, the CAG noted.

As per the CAG report “in respect of 13 general environmental clearance conditions, non-compliance in the sampled projects ranged from 4 to 56 per cent”. The performance audit noticed weaknesses in monitoring by State Pollution Control Boards/Union Territory Pollution Control Committees and Regional Offices of MoEF&CC in compliance of environmental clearance conditions. There was lack of monitoring in the critically polluted areas. A National Regulator for looking at the entire process of grant of environmental clearances and its monitoring is under consideration by MoEF&CC.

The full report can be downloaded here