New Delhi: Despite widespread perception, the NDA government's record of giving green clearances has "not" been different from the previous UPA regime and it has brought "selective" changes to regulations in the name of streamlining the system without strengthening grass-root institutions, a green body said on Tuesday.
In an assessment of NDA government's one-year record on environmental conservation, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said the more "difficult" agenda remains "neglected" as the government has not unveiled plans to reduce air pollution in cities or to clean Ganga.
"The analysis shows that there have been no major reforms to improve the green clearance processes for safeguarding the environment and lives and livelihoods of communities - rather, incremental changes have been made to 'ease the process' of project clearances."
"This is not different from the previous UPA government where also there was huge hype about delays in green clearance, but the data showed that projects were being cleared and processes were made so convoluted that they stopped working to protect the environment," CSE director general Sunita Narain said in a statement.
Pointing out two trends which are of "concern", the analysis said that project clearances are being "devolved" to state agencies without building capacity or accountability in state-level institutions while there is an effort to dilute the public hearing process.
"If these trends continue, they will severely compromise the integrity of the environmental clearance system, especially if nothing is done to improve governance at the state level and to strengthen institutions and oversight," CSE deputy director general Chandra Bhushan said, adding that the amount of forest land diverted in the first year of NDA rule, had been the least since 2007.
"The sum of the NDA government actions has really amounted to a selective changing of environmental regulations in the name of streamlining the system. But this has been done without strengthening institutions, particularly at the state level, that can monitor pollution, enforce rules and ensure compliance," it said.
"The more difficult agenda remains neglected - in this one year, the government has not unveiled any plans to reduce air pollution in cities or to clean the Ganga."
"In fact, what it has is business as usual will not give us the change that we need. In conclusion, NDA was not as bad as we feared. But will it become as good as we want? That is what we need to ask and demand," both Narain and Bhushan said.
Referring to the high level committee set up by the Environment Ministry in 2014 under TSR Subramanian to examine existing laws, CSE said that time given to it was too "short" and the major recommendations were "injudicious".
"The result was that some of the major recommendations of the committee have been found to be injudicious while the others can be further improved. There is concern that the government might selectively use the recommendations to dilute the green clearance processes. This is what needs to be avoided," CSE said.
It said that although the NDA government came to power on the heels of much "hype and noise" about environmental clearances holding up growth, it was also feared that corporate India would get its wish to do away with clearances, or at least to "whittle" away the system.
"In the past year, the government did try to do this by hastily setting up a committee with the apparent mandate of doing away with protection. It even tried to dilute the consent provision of the Forest Rights Act. But as yet, this has not happened," it said.
Noting that in the one-year rule, two sectors - mining and infrastructure - stand out in terms of clearances granted and the government has given priority to clearing coal mining and road and highway projects, CSE said between June 2014 and April 2015, 103 mining projects and 54 infrastructure projects were granted environmental clearance.
"This is about 80 percent of all environment clearances granted in this period," the CSE analysis said.
Pointing out towards some of the positive trends, CSE said that there has been an effort to improve waste management rules as the draft waste rules had "significant" improvement than what existed before, while both the Environment Ministry and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) are working "together" to make existing pollution standards more stringent.
Referring to the introduction of the National Air Quality Index, CSE said it will help build public awareness about the quality of air and the precautions people need to take for safeguarding their health.