The current government has allowed large-scale dilution of "go" and "no go" classification of coal block areas made jointly by the environment and coal ministries in 2009-10, heeding to the pressure and interests of corporates and the mining industry, said Jairam Ramesh, former Union Minister for Environment and Forests.
Nine major coal fields in Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Orissa were classified into "Go" and "No Go" areas during the UPA-II government regime with a 70:30 ratio mix. Over the years, this was compromised and now the ratio has become 95:5 ratio, which shows the kind of dilution that has already happened in the country's ecologically sensitive areas, the Congress Rajya Sabha MP and Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Forests, told Business Today in an exclusive interaction on the draft of EIA 2020. Many officials, public sector companies and government agencies are also responsible like the corporate lobby to dilute the internment rules, he said.
"The job of the Union Minister for Environment and Forests is not that it clears as many industrial projects as possible. It is to ensure that forest land and the environment are protected and saved," he said.
The plan of allocating the Bander coal block near the Tadoba tiger reserve in Chandrapur district in Maharashtra had to be dropped recently due to opposition from the locals and the state government. The proposed changes in India's environment laws are just in the interest of 'ease of doing business'. "This has been in the works for over a year and is directly monitored by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). I am not against development and industrialisation, but the industry also has to learn and obey the laws of the land for sustainable development and have a responsibility to protect the environment," he said.
One among the biggest concerns related to the proposed changes include the provision of allowing only government agencies to object on environmental grounds and not the affected communities. The proposal to create an ex-post-facto clearance route, in which large projects can be set up without environment clearance and pay a small fine later, is grossly detrimental to protecting the environment.
"If a steel plant gets clearance to set up one million tonne capacity refinery and is free to expand it to five million tonnes without further environment approvals, it is ridiculous. The ecological consequences are manifold," said Ramesh, who was the Union Minister for Environment and Forests from May 2009 to July 2011.
The corporates should view environment protection not as an obligation under the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) rules, but as a responsibility related to public health. Social forestry schemes, which mostly plant one or two types of trees, cannot be seen as a way to compensate and replace the loss of natural forest cover. The current proposals will cause large-scale environmental destruction and loss of quality forest cover, he said.