Karela Fry

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Bogus environmental reports

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In spite of having extremely well-meaning laws about the environment, India is one of the most polluted countries in the world. The Hindu reports one of the reasons:

The National Green Tribunal is the latest to point out that consultants are including “cooked data” in the key environment impact assessment (EIA) reports which determine green clearances for industrial projects. The Tribunal has told the government to come up with a mechanism to ensure authentic data.

The Tribunal made its comments last week while suspending the environment clearance given to Scania Steel and Power for the expansion of its sponge iron and captive power plant project in Chhattisgarh, on the grounds that no public hearing had been held.

It pointed out that in what seemed like a misguided effort to make the project look clean, the EIA report actually recorded pollution indicators well below possible levels. For example, the levels of sulphur dioxide reported in the area range between 5.1 and 5.3 micrograms per cubic metre, conveniently ignoring the fact that the minimum detectable limit of the pollutant itself was only 6 micrograms per cubic metre. The levels of the heavy metal mercury in the air had not even been estimated.

IBN Live reports other things were amiss:

[The tribunal bench comprising Acting Chairperson Justice A S Naidu and G K Pandey] was hearing a plea filed by NGO Jan Chetna through advocates Ritwick Dutta and Rahul Chaudhary contending that the clearance was granted to the project without public hearing as required under EIA Notification of 2006.

The same report in the Hindu quoted the tribunal’s conclusions:

“In view of the infirmities noticed, we direct Ministry of Environment and Forests to develop appropriate mechanism, to check the authenticity of environmental data reported in the EIA/EMP report which would facilitate a more realistic environmental appraisal of project,” said the Tribunal. “Steps should also be taken for black listing Consultants found to have reported ‘cooked data’ or ‘wrong data’ and for producing sub-standard EIA/EMP report.”

HT reports other things amiss in the granting of environmental clearance:

Two former ministry officials — Vijai Sharma, former environment secretary, and Devendra Pandey, official retired from the ministry’s environment clearance — have been appointed in the NGT.

They have been party to clearance of certain projects which has now been challenged in the NGT. The NGOs have raised their conflict of interest issue even in the NGT. There have been instances where former ministry officials had to recluse [sic] from hearing a particular case because of their role in approving the project when they were in the ministry.

“It is a genuine concern,” said a senior ministry functionary. “We will soon prescribe certain cooling period for ministry officials before they can apply in the NG,” he added.

The new regulations are likely to be applicable for new appointments to be made in the NGT.

The government is in the process of filling up vacant posts in the Delhi office of the tribunal and for appointing members of tribunal’s three [sic] benches in Bhopal, Kolkata, Pune and Chennai.

It seems that the sorry state of the environment arises from the usual lack of probity in public life. Anna’s campaign was disastrous, but one does need a movement of that kind to make a change at all.

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