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Indian NGOs slam environmental approvals as farcical rubber stamp

If environmental regulations are slowing growth, as the PM says, why is the number of approved projects 10 years ahead of plans?
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Villagers wash themselves after a days work of scavenging coal from an open-cast mine in the village of Jina Gora on February 11, 2012 near Jharia, India. Villagers in India's Eastern State of Jharkhand scavenge coal illegally from open-cast coal mines to earn a few dollars a day. Claiming that decades old underground burning coal seams threatened the homes of villagers, the government has recently relocated over 2300 families to towns like Belgaria. Villagers claim they were promised schools, hospitals and free utilities for two years, which they have not received. As the world's power needs have increased, so has the total global production of coal, nearly doubling over the last 20 years according to the World Coal Association. (Daniel Berehulak/AFP/Getty Images)

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.”

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/india/india-ngos-environmental-approvals

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