Excerpt from Indian Express Article, Published on Feb 20, 2024

In July 2021, the Environment Ministry established a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to address environmental violations, offering two pathways for resolution. Each violation undergoes scrutiny by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) to determine its permissibility and sustainability under the law. Remediation plans and fines are prescribed for viable projects, while closure and penalties are recommended for non-compliant endeavors.

Recent records reveal a trend where violations are frequently documented but subsequently pardoned. For instance, despite concerns over environmental impact, the 15 MTPA Pakri Barwadih coal mine in Jharkhand received extensions to its Environmental Clearance (EC) due to its role in ensuring consistent power supply. Similarly, the renewal of an EC for a thermal power plant in Odisha proceeded despite the developer’s disregard for forest clearance protocols. Notably, the absence of clear conditions regarding forest clearance in the EC facilitated the project’s advancement.

Even with opportunities for rectification, some developers persist in flouting regulations. The expansion proposal for the Jalagam Vengala Rao opencast mine in Telangana by Singareni Collieries Company Limited was flagged for exceeding production limits, illustrating a lack of deterrence. Between March 2017 and January 2024, the Union Environment Ministry approved over 100 projects, including contentious cases like the Vijayapura airport in Karnataka and the Lower Orr hydel project in Madhya Pradesh. Noteworthy approvals also include expansions in industrial sectors such as pesticide manufacturing and hospitality.

However, the Supreme Court intervened in January, suspending the SOP’s enforcement pending further review. The legality and efficacy of the post-facto clearance system face scrutiny, with the next hearing scheduled for early March. This development underscores the contentious nature of environmental governance and the need for stricter adherence to regulations to safeguard ecological integrity and public health.

To delve deeper into this topic, please read the full article in the Indian Express.