Why has the Supreme Court asked the environment ministry to set up an environment regulator? Will it make the entire process of appraising and monitoring clearances longer?
At present, the mechanism under the environmental impact assessment (EIA) notification, 2006—part of the Environment Protection Act—deals with processing appraisal and approval of projects for environmental clearance. The Supreme Court found this mechanism deficient in many respects and, therefore, directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to set up an environment regulator, at the national level, to carry out independent, objective and transparent appraisal and approval for environmental clearances to projects. Another reason for having a regulatory mechanism in place is that identification of forest area is solely based on the project proponent who, as per the present procedure, has to undertake an EIA by an expert body or institution, based on which the state or central government take further action. This has often led to conflicting reports.
The apex court’s green bench, headed by Justice AK Patnaik, said the environment regulator should be set up by March 31 this year. The regulator will have offices in all states for monitoring the implementation of the conditions laid down for the granting of environmental clearances.
Though the introduction of a regulator will add one more step in the already complex process of appraising projects and granting clearances, it is expected to make the mechanism more transparent and fair.
How different will the regulator be from the existing environment appraisal committee and the forest advisory committee of the MoEF? Can it grant clearances to projects?
The existing regulatory regime, where the environment appraisal committee (EAC) and the forest advisory committee (FAC) of the ministry grant clearances to projects, will continue. The proposed regulator will not grant clearances but will only check if the process of approvals given by the committees is transparent. The regulator, at the state and at the central level, will appraise projects, enforce environmental conditions for approvals and impose penalties on polluters.
When it comes to forest clearances, the regulator will check if the National Forest Policy, 1988, has been duly implemented. But, it cannot intervene in matters that relate to the powers of the central government under the Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, which deals with tribal rights over forest land and comes under the purview of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
Hence, the new body will be integrated with the MoEF since