Absence of norms for opening new quarries puts officials in fix

The State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), which has received applications for opening 44 new sand quarries on the Cauvery-Coleroon river basin, is clueless about how to proceed further, in the absence of Central guidelines on such project proposals.

As a sequel to the August 3 order of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, the PWD had to secure approval of the SEIAA for setting up 44 sand quarries and running 21 existing quarries. Twenty-seven sand quarries over five years old were closed down.

It is against this context the PWD, about a week ago, filed petitions before the SEIAA, seeking nod.

Sources in the authority say that the notification of the Union Environment and Forests Ministry of September 14, 2006, which talked about procedures to be adopted for environmental clearances, broadly classified development activities and projects into category ‘A’ and category ‘B.’

While major projects, including nuclear projects, airports, chemical fertiliser plants and new National Highways, come under the first category, other projects are under the category ‘B.’

In respect of those coming under the category ‘A,’ the Ministry of Environment and Forests is the regulatory authority and as for the category ‘B,’ it is the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority in the State concerned. Within the category ‘B,’ there are two sub-divisions – ‘B1’ and ‘B2.’

Though the 2006 notification defined ‘B1’ projects as those requiring Environmental Impact Assessment reports and it also stated that the Ministry would issue appropriate guidelines from time to time, the SEIAA sources say that no such norms have been issued so far.

Not clear

A host of steps, including public hearing, has been envisaged for ‘B1’ projects but one is not clear which projects will come under this category and which will not.

The approval process becomes more complex for B1 projects as, for instance, one month notice has to be given before holding a public hearing.

Besides, the State-level Expert Appraisal Committee has to scrutinise the project proposals first before recommending them to the Authority for final orders.

Clarity sought

The SEIAA has sent a couple of letters to the Union Ministry to provide clarity on the matter of guidelines, the sources add.