New Delhi: The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has said that the new system for rating states on environmental clearance will “increase efficiency”, but “without diluting any regulatory safeguards”.
Last week, the environment ministry issued an office memorandum to all State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities (SEIAAs), announcing a star-rating system that would rank SEIAAs based on how long they took to grant environmental clearance (EC) for projects.
According to the office memorandum, the SEIAAs would be assessed through seven criteria for a total of eight marks. These include the average number of days for granting EC, the number of times additional details regarding the project were sought, and the number of complaints addressed by the SEIAA.
States scoring the highest marks would be awarded the most stars.
The move was met with much criticism from environmentalists and researchers, who said it could lead to hasty clearances without adequate oversight from SEIAAs.
In a statement issued Monday, the ministry said the rating system was in line with provisions under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification of 2006 — the law that governs environmental clearance norms — and that “there is no negative marking proposed for not meeting the criteria for ranking”.
“The ranking system is based on the provisions of EIA Notification 2006 and various guidelines issued by the ministry from time to time and designed to encourage the SEIAAs to increase their efficiency in decision-making strictly as per provisions of EIA Notification 2006 without diluting any regulatory safeguards,” the statement says.
What the ministry says
The ministry said it included the number of days taken to grant EC as a criterion because the EIA notification of 2006 “provides a time period of 105 days for granting EC which includes 60 days for appraisal and 45 days for decision by regulatory authority”.
The ranking system gives two points to states granting it in 80 days or less, one point for granting it in 105 days or less, and 0.5 points for taking more than 105 days.
The system also gives states that dispose of a higher proportion of Terms of Reference (ToR) proposals and new EC proposals more marks. This is to “reduce undue delay in taking a decision on a ToR proposal”.
The ToR is a document issued by the SEIAA that outlines elements required for a fair environmental impact assessment.
States that ask project proponents to provide additional details multiple times are given fewer points, according to the new rating system. This criterion was criticised by environmentalists because requests for more information, called Essential Details Sought or Additional Details Sought, can help the SEIAA gather enough data to make an informed decision.
Referring to an office memorandum issued in June 2021, the ministry in its statement said this criterion was included to “streamline the essential details sought by the committees” and to “avoid irrelevant details being sought”.
In case a project proposal isn’t thorough enough, state authorities “may very well raise Essential Details Sought/Additional Details Sought, and the period for which reply of EDS/ ADS is pending with Project Proponent (PP), shall not be counted for calculating the number of days taken”, the statement says, adding that the SEIAA “has complete freedom to do all necessary due diligence before taking decision on project without worrying about the timeline”.
Another criterion that was criticised was the rating method for SEIAAs conducting site visits. According to the system, state authorities conducting fewer than 10 per cent of site visits were given the most marks, while those that carried out site visits in 20 per cent or more cases were given no points.
The statement says that since environmental clearance is granted based on the “detailed scrutiny” of the application, documents, and public consultation wherever applicable, “this criterion has been added to discourage unnecessary site visits”.
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)