Ease norms for clearing infrastructure projects: PMO to MoEF

FP

The Prime Minister's Office has asked the Environment Ministry to consider exempting construction of railway tracks, roads and power transmission lines from mandatory clearances under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) to expedite environmental clearances for these projects.

Such projects are known as 'line infrastructure projects' and the land acquired for them is usually spread over long distances and not a large patch in one place, sources said. As a result, the MoEF condition that FRA clearance must be accompanied by the consent of gram sabhas has emerged as a major impediment.

Due to the distances these projects cover, the number of gram sabhas involved is high while the area required in their jurisdiction is less. Ever since FRA approval was made a pre-condition for environmental clearance, the sources said, implementation of these projects in rural areas has slowed down.

While the MoEF is yet to respond, the thinking at the highest level is that line infrastructure projects should be exempted as long as the land in question is not more than a fourth of the project area.

Another PMO move on which the MoEF has been silent is the need for repeating public hearing for coal blocks where production is enhanced by use of technology.

This was taken up during discussions on Coal India being unable to meet the power sector's demands. Among other reasons, CIL mentioned its problems in getting environment clearances each time a coal field raised production.

Subsequently, the PMO had asked the ministry to consider waiving public hearing for fields allotted after 1994 — when public hearing became mandatory — and where production has improved by not more than 25 per cent, without bringing more area under mining. However, the MoEF has not moved on this.

Similarly, the Agriculture Ministry has urged the PMO to get the MoEF to lift its objections to the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill which is in Parliament.

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