Makarand Gadgil, Mumbai Mirror, May 20 2018
Final notification sparing projects of upto 50,000 sqm from getting environmental clearances likely to be issued by this month-end; activists warn it’s a disastrous move.
The real estate sector is hoping that this month-end will augur an end to its dry spell. The Centre is expected to issue by then the final notification exempting construction projects with a built-up area of upto 50,000 sqm from getting environmental clearances.
Currently, projects of only upto 20,000 sqm are exempted. Developers say this causes “needless” delays of at least two years in getting permissions from the State Expert Appraisal Committee, the State Environment Impact Assessment Committee, and the ministry of environment and forests, which translated into cost overruns.
They believe that the wider exemption will allow 60 per cent of projects in Mumbai Metropolitan Region to get building permits after submitting a self-certification online that all environmental obligations would be met.
The environment ministry had on March 20 issued the draft notification easing the threshold. A senior official in the state housing ministry said suggestions and objections from the public were then invited. “This period has now lapsed. The final notification from the central government is expected to come by the end of this month.”
He said developers had for long demanded easing of environmental clearances. “They wanted exemptions of upto 1.5 lakh sqm. The Centre has agreed to cap it at 50,000 sqm.”
The central government had in December 2016 passed on the powers to give environmental nods to state governments, but the National Green Tribunal struck it down in December last year. This prompted the Centre to issue a fresh notification. Niranjan Hiranandani, president of the National Real Estate Development Council, says the new notification will “significantly cut down” the waiting period for environmental permissions. “What should take just 30 days takes us years,” he rues. He suggests that the clearance process be handed over to municipal corporations.
Environmentalists and town planners, however, sound a note of caution. D Stalin, project director of NGO Vanashakti, alleges that the decision has been taken “with the clear aim of pleasing the real estate lobby in the city” ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election. “Both the state and the central governments are systematically dismantling environmental safeguards.”
Debi Goenka, executive trustee of NGO Conservation Action Trust, sees “no logic” behind the move. “India already figures among the most polluted cities in the world. Removing environmental safeguards will only worsen the pollution levels.”
Pankaj Joshi, executive director of Urban Design Research Institute — a city-based organisation dedicated to protecting the environment and improving urban communities — says while delegating work to the local authority with the aim of improving the ease of doing business is acceptable, “we must question whether we have expertise at the local level to appraise such projects”. He says the environment ministry should, in its final notification, suggest ways to build such expertise. “Else, this will lead to an environmental disaster.”