SC orders govt to set up green regulator, hand over powers

SC environmentThe govt alone is not the regulator under the Forest (Conservation) Act, the Supreme Court ruled. (Reuters)

Overriding the government's authority to grant environmental clearances, the Supreme Court on Monday ordered the setting up of a national regulator with offices across the country to appraise projects, enforce environmental norms for approvals and penalise polluters.

The Green bench led by Justice A K Patnaik rejected the government's contention that it alone was the regulator under the Forest (Conservation) Act and that no one else could be appointed regulator. 

Granting two months' time to the government for appointing a regulator with offices in as many states as possible, the court underlined that the present mechanism under 2006 norms was "deficient" in many aspects.

"What is required is a regulator at the national level having its offices in all the states, which can carry out an independent, objective and transparent appraisal and approval of the projects for environmental clearances and which can also monitor the implementation of the conditions laid down in the environmental clearances," the bench said. 

The court order puts an end to the government's attempt to hold on to its absolute authority to grant clearances, especially when it is already at loggerheads with the National Green Tribunal over environment-related orders. 

While allowing French cement major Lafarge to mine limestone in the forests of Meghalaya's East Khasi hills, the court had in a 2011 judgment asked the government to set up a national environment regulator and said that until this was done, an interim arrangement would be put in place by the MoEF in consultation with states. 

The idea was to lay down comprehensive guidelines for forest clearances. 

However, when the issue was flagged in September last after its failure to set up the regulator, the government negated the need of a regulator and argued that it was the absolute authority under the law. 

... contd.

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