The blueprint for the new environment authority, prepared by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests in 2011, gives the Minister a veto on the decisions on clearances under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
Finalised after more than a year of internal discussions when Jairam Ramesh headed the Ministry, the blueprint was given the shape of a draft Cabinet note, which, however, was not circulated for approval in the government.
With the Supreme Court ordering that the authority be set up by March 31, this blueprint is to be brought back to the table. But, sources in the Ministry said, it would be practically difficult to set up the authority before the deadline as substantial changes in environment rules require mandatory public consultation.
The draft proposed that while in most cases the authority would have the final word on appraising projects for clearance, the Minister would continue wielding a veto which would be exercised only through speaking orders after he asked the authority to review its decision once.
The authority was then planned with a full-time chairman with a fixed tenure and six-eight full-time members handling specific sections of industry. When contacted on the proposal, Mr. Ramesh said: “The government of India, relying on the report [referred to in the Supreme Court judgment] had already prepared a blueprint for such a body. We welcome the order of the Supreme Court and are certain that the constitution of the body would bring about transparency and accountability.”
The present clearance process too permits the Minister to hold a veto on the decisions of the Environment Appraisal Committees, which are filled with members nominated by the Ministry. The proposal for the new authority, Mr. Ramesh said, was different as it would not be a wing of the government and appointments would be done openly.