The Supreme Court Thursday sought response from the Centre on a plea seeking direction for constituting an autonomous and independent national regulator for appraising projects and enforcing environmental conditions, as directed by the apex court in 2011.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde issued notice to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change on the plea which has claimed that present process of environment clearance (EC) is neither transparent nor objective and several expert bodies have called for reform in environmental governance.
Issue notice, said the bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.
The plea, filed by former Indian Forest Services member A N Yellappa Reddy and retired Army officer Lieutenant General S C Sardeshpande, said that the apex court had in July 2011 directed the Centre to appoint a national regulator under section 3 of the Environment Protection Act 1986 but the government has not done it yet.
It said that in January 2014, the top court had clarified that its 2011 direction was binding and not mere suggestion.
Several expert bodies have called for reform in environmental governance and have highlighted the fact that the difficulties in ensuring compliance with the environmental laws relate to the process and structure of the institutions involved in the appraisal and approval process. A number of expert bodies have called for the setting up of an expert independent body for the appraisal and assessment of the environmental impacts of proposed activities, said the plea, filed through advocate Satya Mitra.
It said that several courts across the country have dealt with petitions where issues of credibility and authenticity of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports have been called into question and where the appraising authorities have been found to have failed to adequately apply their minds before clearances were granted.
The plea said the EIA Notification, 2006 stipulates that a prior EC is required to be obtained for projects mentioned in schedule I of the notification.
It said that projects are categorised as category A' and B' based on spatial extent of potential impacts on human health and natural and man-made resources.
It said while category A' projects require clearance from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change based on the recommendation of an expert appraisal committee (EAC), category B' project requires clearance from the state environment impact assessment authority on the basis of recommendation of the state expert appraisal committee.
The present day EC processes are neither transparent, nor objective. ECs are issued in an arbitrary manner because of, amongst other reasons, lack of permanency of EAC members, lack of validated data, ineffective monitoring and enforcement of environmental clearance conditions and, in some cases, conflict of interest in the case of some members, it said.
The plea said that in 2016, a report was prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on environmental clearance and post clearance monitoring.
It said the CAG report had noted the fact that environment impact assessment process suffers from various procedural deficiencies.
The plea said that air pollution load at the national level has gone up since 2011 and this has caused massive loss including to human health and water bodies.