Indian NGOs slam environmental approvals as farcical rubber stamp

India's so-called “green clearances” for industrial projects ranging from dams to mines to residential developments are a sad joke, the representatives of more than 100 non-profit organizations testified in New Delhi Friday, at a meeting to discuss the environmental crisis facing the country.

Speaker after speaker detailed countless examples in which Environmental Impact Assessments were slapped together after projects were already approved and allocated to corporations, with “consultants” cutting and pasting “assessments” written for entirely different projects. Or stranger occurrences, such as the ubiquitous open-pit coal mines in the northeastern state of Meghalaya – where not a single company or individual has been granted a license to dig.

The two-day Anil Agarwal Dialogue on Green Clearances, organized by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), comes in the wake of repeated claims from corporations and senior government officials – including the prime minister – that the supposedly slow pace of environmental approvals is hampering India's growth.

On Thursday, for instance, the ministry of environment and forests opened up 25 percent of forest land previously classified as a no-go area for industrial projects at the urging of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

However, CSE's data indicates that a greater number of projects were approved in the past five years than the number projected by the national Planning Commission for the upcoming 11th and 12th Five Year Plans.

Between 2007 and 2011, for instance, 361 non-coal mining projects were cleared during the supposed drought, and the country's iron and steel capacity doubled.

“How much truth is there in the contention of industry that environmental and forest clearances are hampering economic development by delaying projects?” asked Chandra Bhushan, CSE’s deputy director general. “We think there is none.”

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