As much as 80% of real estate projects in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane and Raigad are set be fast-tracked after the central government decided to relax the need for environmental clearance, long seen by builders as a hurdle that delayed projects.
The Centre’s decision ensures that builders will now be abe to hasten the construction process by a year. However, environmentalists have condemned the move, citing likely disastrous impacts on the environment.
“The move is an environmental disaster. Now that builders have a free hand, unprecedented construction without any safeguards is likely. The Ministry of Environment and Forest will no longer control them. Our infrastructure is crumbling. These relaxed norms will just hasten the process,” said Debi Goenka, noted environmentalist. He is one of several activists who believe environmental norms are being compromised upon.
The rules were first relaxed in Delhi, but the Centre’s recent decision targets regions where it wants affordable homes to be constructed to fulfil its agenda of ‘Housing For All’ by 2022.
The earlier rule aimed at ensuring that the builder adhered to environmental norms, installed energy-saving mechanisms and reduced pollution. Environmental safeguards such as the installation of water harvesting plants, LED lights to reduce power emissions and the use of specific construction materials were put in place.
It that any builder constructing a structure of more than 20,000 square metres had to get a green signal from the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF). Now, projects occupying an area of up to 1.5 lakh sq m will not need the MoEF’s clearance. They need only approach local civic bodies, such as the Brihanmumbai Municpal Corporation.
“The environmental clearance was a time-consuming process and took at least a year. Now, we can fast-track all projects,” said Shroff.
Earlier, projects that occupied an area of 20,000 sq metres were exempt from the prior green approval and sought clearance through self-certification declarations by developers monitored by the civic body.
Now, only projects that occupy an area of 1.5 lakh sq m to 3 lakh sq m will still have to get prior approval from the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA).
Projects that occupy an area of more than 3 lakh square metres will have to approach the Centre for the clearance.
“The earlier rule was bureaucratic. Meeting officials was a herculean task. It was difficult to get approvals,” said a leading developer from Delhi. He said the relaxed norms would help builders reduce their prices. “Builders depend on private lenders, who charge huge interest rates. If we get approvals faster, this reduces project costs and homebuyers will benefit,” he added.