Virtually turning down the demand of the Power Ministry, the Environment and Forest Ministry has ruled out review of its recent directive directing all power projects to secure forest clearance before they being work.
“This is being done to avoid being presented fait accompli. Nobody should take environmental clearance for granted. This directive has been issued to avoid situations where damage is done even before the project formally takes off. This would help in proper execution of the project and help in its timely implementation by securing all clearances before hand,” Environment and Forest Minister, Jairam Ramesh said.
"I am in the know-how of the demand by the Power Ministry to forego this directive but in the interest of environmental protection I am unable to withdraw this directive," Mr. Ramesh said.
The Power Ministry has argued that such a directive would prove a big obstacle in achieving the targeted power generation capacity addition programme. It has expressed fears that such an order would adversely impact the development of hydro and thermal power projects which are the mainstay of the programme to achieve capacity addition targets. The performance of the Power sector and the Power Ministry has such has already set off alarm bells in the Prime Minister’s office (PMO) as well as the Planning Commission. Such adverse is the situation that the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh has convened a meeting of infrastructure sector Ministries including Coal, Power, Environment, Transport and Steel on July 2 to sort out the contentious issues impacting infrastructure growth.
The Power Ministry, which had set a target of 78,000 MW of capacity addition during 11th Plan later revised it to 68,000 MW and during the mid-term Plan review meeting, the Planning Commission brought this down to 62,000 MW, which experts feel that would also be difficult to achieve keeping in mind the poor performance of the Power Ministry till now.
Power ministry has said this directive would delay development of thermal and hydropower projects. Before the environment ministry's directive issued in March, companies could begin work on non-forest area of a site after obtaining environment clearance. Securing forest clearance was necessary only before staring work on forestland.
The Power Secretary, P. Uma Shankar has already written to the Power Ministry pleading that power project developers should be allowed to apply simultaneously for environment and preliminary forest clearances. As per the new procedure, companies have to obtain forest clearances prior to seeking environment clearances if any forest land diversion is required in future. Earlier, environment clearance was an independent process. Infrastructure projects, including mining and power, that have already secured environment clearances would now have to obtain forest clearances within a year's time.