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Rubber-stamp Authority

Posted by Admin on November 18, 2009

Rupesh Yadav
Sponge iron factory on the outskirts of Raipur

Chhattisgarh announced a proposed investment of more than Rs 1,77,000 crore in the state. Until October 2008, it had signed over a hundred mous with companies like Jindals, Tata Steel and Essar. After a couple of months of this announcement, a bureaucrat heading the state environment regulatory body resigned.28.jpg

“Development is the preferred option, provided the carrying capacity is available. There cannot be a trade-off at the cost of the health and livelihoods of the silent majority,” wrote Sardar Amrieet Prakash Singh, former chairperson of the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (state eia authority).

The state eia authority was formed under the 2006 eia notification. The Union environment ministry also asked states to constitute a state expert appraisal committee, which would provide technical support to the state eia authority to grant or reject environment clearances to projects (see: Who gives the green signal). But Singh’s relations with both the expert committee and the Centre were strained. In a series of letters to the expert committee, Singh pointed how it continued to recommend clearances to industries in the highly polluting Siltara industrial belt, near Raipur, despite the state eia authority’s decision to disallow polluting industrial activity there.

State environment regulatory bodies formed under the 2006 Environmental Impact Assessment notification have floundered. They have little financial autonomy and don’t have guidelines to function. The result, decentralization of confusion and corruption

During his tenure as the chairperson, he had decided to not allow any more polluting industrial units in Siltara where air pollution levels are critical. A 2005 sample study by the Central Pollution Control Board rated the suspended particulate matter (spm) in two residential areas in Raipur district critical at 317 and 259 microgrammes per cubic metre. For residential areas, the acceptable spm limit is 200 microgrammes per cubic metre. The study also found that against the acceptable limit of 100 microgrammes per cubic metre, the rspm (respirable suspended particulate matter) levels in the two residential areas were 207 and 166 microgrammes per cubic metre.

Industrialization in the state hasn’t stopped. Since 2005, the environment ministry has cleared 18 thermal power projects, with capacity to generate over 9,000 MW, and given the terms of reference to conduct eias to 48 projects with 37,000 MW generation capacity. Besides, 52 industrial units have been cleared and 57 others handed the terms of reference. Given the statistics, Singh aimed at collecting data on pollution levels in three cities—Raipur, Korba and Raigarh—and study pollution’s impact on the health of the people. His idea was to restrict further flow of polluting industries there. He, however, met with surprising disagreement with the environment ministry.

P L Ahujarai, director at the environment ministry, wrote to Singh that though the carrying capacity study was desirable, his condition of deferring projects till such study was done could not be fulfilled. At the most the state eia authority or the expert committee or the state pollution control board could impose conditions for environment protection and management, Ahujarai said.

On health, he added, “the aspects related to pollution are important but at present there is no data on this subject to correlate with and draw conclusive decisions.” Down To Earth

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