Profit of loss: When growth harms the earth

Development projects from across India are flouting environmental norms, says a recent CAG audit report
CAG found development projects not meeting conditions of environment clearances.
CAG found development projects not meeting conditions of environment clearances.

At the Sainj Hydroelectric Power Project in Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, muck dumping sites were inadequate and damaged resulting in the muck directly flowing into the river. Nabinagar Super Thermal Power Project in Bihar had to install instruments to control air, water, noise and dust pollution, develop green belt and recycle treated effluent. None of this was done.

The recent audit report by CAG on environmental clearance and post-clearance monitoring lists many such instances from development projects across India. Inadequate environmental impact assessments (EIAs), irregularities in public hearings, not meeting promises and unregulated use of natural resources are just a few of the points raised by the audit team. Here are some of the crucial points mentioned in the report:

    • In five out of the seven river valley and hydroelectricity projects, it was found that the consultants preparing the EIA report were not registered with the National Accreditation Board for Education and Training, a requirement mandated by the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in 2009. In six of these seven projects, the EIA report did not comply with the terms of reference and the generic structure. Still the ministry granted environmental clearances to these projects. 

    • The public consultations done in all seven projects were also found to be not following the rules. At 100 percent, this was the highest rate of noncompliance across all project categories. In contrast, coal mining projects had the least rate of noncompliance at around 15 percent.

      • The companies working on development projects routinely went back on the emergency preparedness plans. Neglect of plant and animal life and failure to implement catchment area treatment plan were the two top shortfalls as around 57 percent of the projects studied could not fulfil these.

      • Catchment area treatment is essential to deal with soil erosion. Soil erosion adversely impacts agriculture production and the life of the reservoir. Of the nine river valley and hydroelectric power projects, four had no such condition listed, other five projects had not implemented the plan. 

      • Development of a harbour at Katchal of Andaman and Nicobar islands required periodic monitoring of the health of coral reefs but the project proponent, Port Management Board, did not allocate funds for the same.

    • The conditions laid down before granting environmental clearance like taking permission to cut trees, using groundwater or the development of green belt were also flouted.

    • In Uttarakhand, residential complex of Omaxe Riveria at Rudrapur was required to install a sewage treatment plant of 1,430 kilo litres per day (KLD). It installed a plant of 600 KLD capacity which was also found to be nonfunctional for months.

    • A thermal power plant in Gujarat failed to undertake rain water harvesting measures and store water for use in the plant as mandated in the environmental clearance.  

  • Companies also routinely went back on their promises made during public hearings whether that included compensatory afforestation, installation of instruments for pollution monitoring, rainwater harvesting, dust management systems or effluent treatment plants. Around 58 percent projects failed to properly monitor air, water, noise, and soil pollution. 

  • MoEFCC failed to add condition to maintain environmental flow, essential to maintain aquatic ecosystem, in six out of nine river valley and hydroelectricity projects. Similarly, in five of these projects, there was no condition for fishery conservation and management plan. Of the remaining four projects which had these conditions, only one complied with the rules.

  • The ministry and the central and state pollution control boards did not monitor the 43 critically polluted areas of the country. They neither got the environmental quality monitoring done nor supervised the implementation of action plans for these areas. 

  • In Ludhiana city of Punjab, for instance, such laxity meant that the sewer lines were not completed, the solid waste collection was done only in 40 percent of the city and common effluent treatment plants for dyeing industries were not installed. Similarly, in case of neighbouring Mandi Gobindgarh city, the effluent treatment plants were not installed. The industries located in non-designated area were also not shifted. 

While these instances underscore the audacity with which developers flout rules, the MoEFCC is bending over backwards to let them go scot free. The ministry did not impose a penalty for non-compliance of conditions laid down in environment clearances in last two years. Regional Offices had not been delegated the powers to take action against the defaulting companies and pollution control boards also failed to ensure that projects were running with valid consents. Lack of staff and infrastructure at regional offices of the ministry and pollution control boards, despite having sufficient funds, further affected the cause of environment protection.

There are slim chances that this audit report will lead to improvement in functioning as the ministry remained silent or evaded most of the objections put up by the audit team. A recent notification offering one-time reprieve to the projects operating without clearances makes it clear that the ministry's real motive is to push development projects and not to save environment.

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