Category ‘B’ projects may be monitored through instrumentalities of the SEIAAs and SPCBs: NGT
Environmental Clearance must be monitored on a periodical basis, at least, once in a quarter: National Green Tribunal
Sanjaya K. Mishra, Editor & Publisher at www.enviroannotations.com
24th July 2019, New Delhi: On 23rd July 2019 a hearing on Original Application No.837/2018 (M.A. No. 1549/2018 &I.A. No. 290/2019), Sandeep Mittal Versus Ministry of Environment, Forests &Climate Change &Ors. regarding post-clearance monitoring and compliances, took place in the Principal Bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT). The bench comprised of Hon’ble Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, Chair Person, Hon’ble Justice S.P. Wangdi, Judicial Member, Hon’ble Justice K. Ramakrishnan, Judicial Member, and Hon’ble Dr. Nagin Nanda, Expert Member.
The first paragraph of the order states “The question for consideration is the effectiveness of monitoring mechanism for compliance of Environmental Clearance (EC) conditions as per Notification dated 14.09.2006 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Environment Impact Assessment is an essential component of the ‘Precautionary’ principle as well as the ‘Sustainable Development’ principle under Section 20 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 which are to be enforced by this Tribunal under Section 15 of the Act. Such an impact assessment is regulated by statutory notification dated 14.09.2006. Laying down conditions for EC is not enough unless compliance thereof is duly monitored.”
The second paragraph of the Order reads “Faced with the grievance that there was a flagrant violation of conditions of Environmental Clearance and adequate monitoring was not taking place, vide order dated 30.10.2018, the Tribunal observed that compliance of conditions of Environmental Clearance must be monitored on a periodical basis, at least, once in a quarter. Accordingly, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) was directed to evolve an appropriate mechanism to that effect and furnish a report.
The NGT Order states that status of monitoring was found to be highly inadequate. There is no monitoring to the extent of 92% of category – B projects and 33% of category – A projects. Further, the 3 monitoring mechanism only involves issuance of show cause notices and seeking action taken reports but there is no application of ‘Polluter Pays’ principle by assessing and recovering compensation where violations are found. There is no separate data with regard to category A and B projects. In respect of compliance status, we find that even where major non-compliance has been found, no compensation has been recovered even for such major violations. This calls for urgent remedial action.
Hon’ble NGT had earlier directed that the primary and essential regulatory functions must be discharged by the statutory authorities and it is only validation that may be outsourced, in the case of staff shortage. Wholesale outsourcing may make it difficult to have any accountable mechanism. This was further acknowledged by MoEF&CC through an affidavit filed on 20.07.2019 by Ms. Geeta Menon, Joint Secretary, MoEF&CC. The affidavit also mentioned that the Ministry is working towards empowering the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) and increasing the number of Regional Offices (ROs) and manpower in Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), SPCB and ROs, which has been considered as more acceptable than exclusively engaging outside agencies. The affidavit also states that in consonance with the direction of Hon’ble NGT it is to submit that the major objective of Third Party Monitoring Mechanism is validation of 6 monthly compliance reports submitted by the Project Authority. The third-party monitoring mechanism will be mainly for monitoring of Category-B projects through validation of their 6 monthly and Category-A projects will continue to be monitored by ROs of the Respondent. The third-party monitoring mechanism will involve government organization, research institutes, universities, etc. of repute, which will also serve to fill the technological and information gaps that may exist.
During interaction on 23rd July 2019, the Tribunal conveyed to the Joint Secretary, MoEF&CC that with regard to the category ‘A’ projects, the data validation has to be the primary concern of the MoEF&CC and ought not to be outsourced. For category ‘B’ projects, such data validation may be done through SEIAA. It also stressed the need to devise an action plan providing for revamping the existing mechanism by providing 100% monitoring of category ‘A’ projects through the mechanism of regional offices of MoEF&CC and CPCB. The monitoring of category ‘B’ projects may be done through instrumentalities of the SEIAA and the State Boards in the same manner.