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Wednesday, 08 January 2014 00:00
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Environment regulator is a step in the right direction

While Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s intervention is what resulted in Jayanthi Natarajan offering to leave the environment ministry and head back to the Congress party, the Supreme Court has offered a more permanent solution to the problem of what could look like partial behaviour of the environment ministry. The Court has reiterated a 2011 order in the Lafarge case where it asked for an environment regulator to be set up. While a regulator being set up doesn’t automatically mean that green clearances will be given quickly to industry, what it will ensure is a certain degree of transparency, hitherto missing in the clearances process. On more than one occasion, industry has complained that panels meant to decide on projects were packed with people who were known for having views that opposed the project. This is something that will go once there is a neutral regulator since, were the panel to be biased, those affected will approach the regulator or the appellate tribunal for justice—this can be either industry or, for instance, those getting displaced/affected by a project.

Having a regulator, and an appellate process, also means that certain standardised rules/guidelines will need to be put in place, making the process of both evaluation and monitoring of green clearances more effective. One of the other problems the Court found was that projects get evaluated on the basis of the data provided by the project proponent and, since there is no independent evaluation process, this is what runs into trouble. Under what is proposed, the regulator will ensure that project reports are made by independent authorities—once again, anyone who objects to the report can appeal to the appellate process. Given the generally happy experience with regulators such as those in telecom, the Supreme Court’s direction to have an environment regulator in place in another two months is welcome.


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