A bench headed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) chairperson, justice Swatanter Kumar, on January 5, 2017, took the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to task, for not ‘applying its mind’, while amending the notification published on December 9, 2016, exempting building and construction projects of all sizes from the process of environment impact assessment (EIA) and prior environmental clearance before beginning construction.
For smaller projects (less than 20,000 sq metres), it even has a ‘self-declaration’ clause, which will ensure issuance of permission from urban local bodies. For larger projects of more than 20,000 sq metres in size, the EC and building permission will be given by urban local bodies simultaneously, in an integrated format.
“Why don’t you (MoEF) do something constructive for the system? There is a way of doing things. If you wanted to amend the notification, you could have simply said that although the new projects are not required to take EC, each project when cleared by local authorities would have certain conditions imposed on it. You tell your ministry and all others, not to act under the new notification. Otherwise, we will stay the notification. You can’t do legal blunders and get away with it,” the bench said, while granting liberty to the petitioners to approach the NGT, if a single permission is granted under the new notification.
The matter is now listed for next hearing on January 12, 2017. The green panel had earlier refused to stay the December 9, 2016 notification by the MoEF and issued notices to the ministries of Environment and Forests and Urban Development, while seeking their reply before January 4, 2017.
The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by the Society for Protection of Environment and Biodiversity, seeking quashing of the December 9 notification, on the grounds that it was in contravention to the provisions of EIA notification, 2006 and Environment Protection Act, 1986. The plea had alleged that the notification tries to circumvent the provisions of the EIA Notification, 2006 in the name of ease of doing business, for building and construction of areas which are more than 20,000 sq metres and less than 150,000 sq metres, wherein prior EC was required earlier.
The petition said that the purpose of including the building and construction projects in the EIA notification is a failure of the urban local bodies and development authorities.