Manmohan for environmental clearance sans permit raj

New Delhi: In the backdrop of the controversy over environmental clearances to major projects, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday said an independent regulator would soon revamp the process and help protect ecology without bringing back ‘the hated licence permit raj’.

“We hope to establish an independent regulator – the National Environment Appraisal and Monitoring Authority soon. This authority could lead to a complete change in the process of granting environmental clearances. Staffed by dedicated professionals, it will work on a full time basis to evolve better and more objective standards of scrutiny,” Dr. Singh said.

He was speaking at a seminar on ‘Global Environment and Disaster Management: Law and Society’ in New Delhi.

The move to establish this authority appears to have come in the wake of stalling of several industrial and mining projects after the Environment Ministry, till recently led by Jairam Ramesh, had refused to clear the project.

The Prime Minister also expressed the hope that, in future, there would not be much litigation in projects due to environmental issues.

“I must also mention that but for the enduring wisdom of our judiciary, we would not have the bulk of what we proudly call ‘environmental jurisprudence’,” Dr. Singh said.

He maintained that in the 1990s, due to rapid industrialisation brought about by economic liberalisation there was a threat of depletion of natural resources. But the judiciary had ensured there was no compromise on this issue.

“Over all, a major challenge ahead is to put in place a legal and regulatory framework which is effective in protecting the environment but without bringing back the hated license permit raj of the pre-1991 period,” Dr. Singh said.

Dr. Singh also hailed the new “comprehensive law” which established a specialised Tribunal for settlement of a “broad spectrum of environmental cases of civil nature”.

“We have joined a handful of forward looking countries to have such a dedicated mechanism. This tribunal has started functioning and I expect it will help to reduce the workload of our courts,” he said.

The Prime Minister insisted that the Disaster Management Act, 2005 had enabled the setting up of institutional mechanisms for disaster preparedness and mitigation.

He said as a signatory to the International Charter on Space and Major Charters, India extends its space capabilities to acquire data of the location of disasters anywhere on the globe and share the same with the affected countries.

Dr. Singh claimed that in the last four years, the government has formulated a national agenda for environmental protection to meet the challenges of disaster management and climate change.

“Our mission for sustainable habitat will develop standards for green buildings which we intend to make integral to our municipal laws,” he said.

The UPA-II government has a target for greening 10 million hectares of forest land to increase incomes of the poor through a national Green India Mission.

“Action for generating over 20,000 MW of solar energy by the year 2020 is underway,” he said.

Through sustainable agriculture and water conservation, the government aims to increase productivity of dry land agriculture and increase efficiency of water use.

“All these steps will cumulatively lead us to a low carbon growth path,” Dr. Singh said.

The Prime Minister said till now the public felt there is a trade-off between economic growth and environmental sustainability but now growth accommodates environmental concerns.

“There is now general agreement that environment cannot be protected by perpetuating the poverty of developing countries. Their basic concern is with development and this is as it should be”.

“But it is also no longer acceptable to take as given that a certain degree of environmental degradation and over-exploitation of natural resources in the cause of promoting growth is inevitable,” Dr. Singh said.

He maintained that it is no longer possible to treat the environment with “passive disregard”.

“And it is no longer tenable to pretend that these are concerns only for the other or wealthier nations,” he said.