No Environmental Clearance For ‘Sensitive’ Indian Highway Projects!
Environmentalists stress over Union Environment Ministry’s decision to exempt ‘Sensitive’ Indian Highway Projects from prior environmental clearance.
Recently, the Union Environmental Ministry has issued a notification stating that certain ‘sensitive’ Indian highway projects near border areas need to be free from environmental clearance (EC). The Department of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) believes that project developers themselves need to stay committed to the environmental protection measures.
According to the HT reviewed copy, the draft notice amending authorities said;
Highway projects related to defense and strategic importance in border states are sensitive and in many cases need to be prioritized taking into account strategic, defense and security considerations. In this regard, the Ministry deems it necessary to exempt such projects from the requirement of the EC in the border areas that are subject to the prescription of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) along with Standard Environmental Protection Measures for such projects for self-compliance by the agency that carries out such projects.
As per this notification, the authorities also plan on exempting up to 25 MW capacity biomass-based thermal power plants or non-hazardous solid waste. The Ministry feels that the use of a more environmentally-friendly fuel mix, including lignite/petroleum products or bituminous coal, can sustainably increase the threshold power of thermal plants. So, they don’t particularly need EC.
Therefore, the notification mentions the exempt threshold for ports’ fish-handling capacity, eliminating the requirement for EC for expanding the airport’s terminal buildings and exempting the highway tollbooths’ width.
Notification stresses environmental activists
With the release of this notification on April 11, 2022, environmental activists are worrying that these policies to exempt border projects from green clearance may cause environmental degradation in certain areas. They are mainly concerned with the regions that are already rich in biodiversity and those that are ecologically fragile – particularly in the western and eastern western Himalayas. According to them, the new policies won’t consider the defense projects in the forest regions of Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh.
Kanchi Kohli, the legal scholar at the Center for Policy Research, mentions that the environmental clearance procedures are not working appropriately to improve the environment. Such exemptions are only leading our lives and the environment to risk.As an example, she mentioned the all-weather Chardham Highway (880km) for pilgrimage to visit four different sites in Uttarakhand. Last year in December, the Supreme Court allowed the construction of all-weather roads up to 10m wide for expanding the Char Dham project in Uttarakhand. But it eventually posed some serious challenges to national security and environmental risks.
Even other ecologists and geologists are raising concerns about the ill impact of hill mining and instability due to the Double Lane Paved Shoulder (DLPS) road. Since this project also does not need EC, now people can even bypass the EIA for the well-known Bhagirathi eco-sensitive zone.
The Government officials, on the other hand, are stating that they will take appropriate measures to fulfill the safety requirements. They also mentioned regular checks for national security and environmental management. According to a senior Environment Department official, the exceptions are being made after taking into account the safety requirements of the environment and people.