By: Nivedita Khandekar
New Delhi: In continuation of its efforts at bringing “ease of doing business”, the Centre on Friday brought changes to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification that provides for exemption of environmental clearance to several projects, including defence related/border areas projects, those up to 25 MW thermal plants based on biomass, or expansion of terminal building of airports.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change published the final set of amendments to the EIA notification of 2006 that were first proposed on April 11 and had sought feedback, comments and objections from the public and experts.
Since the last two years, the Environment Ministry has proposed a volley of amendments that have been deemed as “dilution” of the EIA process and criticised heavily by environmental activists.
The current set of exemptions come with the condition that standard environmental safeguards for such projects would be followed by the agency executing such projects or the incremental environmental impacts can be catered by providing for environmental safeguards which can be built into the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) at the time of grant of such clearances.
Currently, thermal power plants up to 15 MW based on biomass or non-hazardous Municipal Solid Waste using auxiliary fuel such as coal, lignite/petroleum products up to 15 per cent are exempted from the requirement of EC. Now, no EC would be required for such thermal plants up to 25 MW.
Taking into account the issues of livelihood security of fishermen involved at fish handling ports/harbours and less pollution potential of these ports/harbours compared to others, and that such exclusive ports cater to the small fishermen whose boats have lesser pollution potential, the Ministry has now increased the exemption threshold in terms of fish handling capacity for ports/harbours which exclusively handle fish from 10,000 Tonnes Per Annum to 30,000 TPA.
The Ministry has also exempted from the requirement of EC for highway projects related to defence and strategic importance in border states within 100 kms of the border that are sensitive in nature and in many cases need to be executed on priority keeping in view strategic, defence and security considerations.
“However, these would be subject to prescribing Standard Operating Procedure along with standard environmental safeguards for such projects for self-compliance by the Agency executing such projects,” it said.
The new amendment also exempts expansion of airports up to 20,000 sq metres but only when it involves expansion of terminal building areas. “Most of the expansion activities with regard to existing Airports are related to Terminal Building expansion without increase in existing area of the Airport, rather than expansion of runway, hanger etc., and therefore involves only incremental environmental impacts which can be catered by providing for environmental safeguards which can be built into the Environmental Management Plan at the time of grant of such clearances at the local level,” ministry officials said.
Further, the Ministry has also exempted the additional width at toll plaza and junction improvement at intersections from being included in Right of Way for National Highways more than 100 kms.
When the draft amendments were published in April, Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav had then said: “The Ministry is alive to the concerns about proper EMP implementation. We are working out the modalities to address all such issues and will soon come out with a policy regarding the same.” (IANS)