The environment ministry has eased the environmental clearance process for industry, particularly at the state level. In some projects relating to mining of minor minerals, river sand mining, thermal power plants with less than 5MW capacity, the ministry has done away with the mandatory environmental impact assessments and public hearings.
The new guidelines issued on Tuesday follow the recommendations of an expert committee, set up in January under the chairmanship of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute director to suggest ways to speed up clearances at the state level.
Projects that require clearances at the state level are referred to as "category B" projects with two sub-categories. Sub-category B1 refers to projects that require an environmental impact assessment and public consultation before clearance by the state authority or its counterpart in the Union Territories. While projects categorised as B2 would be assessed for clearance on the basis of an application and a pre-feasibility report.
The guidelines issued on Tuesday, will mean that developers of brick earth and ordinary earth mining projects, with lease areas between 5 and 25 hectares, would not be required to hold public hearings or undertake environmental impact assessment for their projects to be cleared.
In June, the environment ministry had exempted brick earth and ordinary earth mining in leases of less than 5 hectares from this mandatory requirement. Minor minerals mining projects, with a lease area of less than 25 hectares, have been categorised as B2 and will also enjoy this exemption from assessment reports and public consultation.
In the case of sand mining, the ministry has said that the authorities should not consider any lease of less than 5 hectares for environment clearance. Sand mining projects with a lease of 5 to 25 hectares should be considered for clearance on the basis of a pre-feasibility report and the prescribed application form.
Additionally, the ministry has set out six conditions for sand mining projects—mining must be manually done, maximum permissible depth of mining is three meters below the water level, mining in areas close to embankments, bridges can be undertaken only after a safety zone is worked out, no instream mining will be permitted, developers to provide replenishment plans. The environmental clearance for river sand mining project would be for a maximum period of 5 years.
However, if any case these mining projects are in a cluster—that is the maximum distance between leave boundaries is 1 km—then these projects will be categorized as B1 or projects that require environmental impact assessment and public hearings as part of the clearance process.
Similarly, the environment ministry has re-categorised projects like small thermal power plants, mineral beneficiation plants, cement plants, metallurgical industries, leather and hide processing industries.
Thermal power plants using coal, lignite, naphtha and gas, with generating capacity of 5 MW or less will not require environmental impact assessments and undertake public hearing to be considered for clearance. Similarly, all new units or expansion projects of leather production without tanning located within a notified industrial area or estate will enjoy the same exemption.