Improving Governance, reducing red tape, bureaucracy and corruption can introduce accountability and transparency and increase the staff responsibility to perform efficiently
The Indian Prime Minister's Office is on the driver's seat in an effort to make it easier to do business in India. Particular attention is now placed on the roadblocks in environmental clearances that figure high on the list of investor woes
Following consultations with ministry officials, stakeholders and industry, about 30 corrective steps have already been notified while a dozen-odd can be expected in coming weeks. The Modi administration has made as many as 30 interventions in India's green clearances system resulting in significant and, from the standpoint of industry, positive changes.
Some of the notable changes include;
- Allowing project promoters to attend expert panel hearings for forest clearances, freeing industry from exorbitant project specific corporate social responsibility (CSR) spends mandated by expert advisory committees and making it easier to identify land for projects as well as compensatory afforestation.
- With the new companies law also specifying that 2 percent of net profits is spent on CSR, industry had been red-flagging the CSR diktats of environmental panels as a case of double taxation.
- For business conditions, one of the most significant respites is that the forest and environmental appraisal committees have been told to stop including conditions prescribing that as much as 5 percent of the project cost should be invested in CSR activities over and above any relief and rehabilitation costs they may have incurred.
- Guidelines have been issued for quickening clearances to projects that are okayed by state governments by introducing a new category of projects that don't require public hearings and environmental impact assessment reports.
- Forest advisory panels have also been asked to allow project promoters to present their case while projects are appraised, without making their presence mandatory for granting clearance.
- In a significant relief for existing investments in coastal areas, the environment ministry clarified that projects which have got clearance under the 1991 coastal zone regulations need not procure a fresh approval under the new regulations on the issue introduced in 2011.
- While new applications for environmental clearances have been put on an online platform, more powers have been assigned to state-level impact assessment authorities.
- Both central and state-level environmental impact assessment panels have been advised to look at project proposals comprehensively and seek information from the promoter 'in one go' instead of revisiting issues while appraising the project.
- Linear projects such as pipelines and transmission investments no longer need to get a first-stage forest clearance (FC) before getting an environmental clearance (EC).
- Ultra mega power projects can now hope for an EC without having to obtain a stage-I FC and EC for the coal mine linked to them. The rigid sequencing requirements for these clearances are a primary cause for project delays, said officials.
- Highway expansion projects, EC conditions have been eased so that a new approval is only needed in cases where more than 100 km of roads are being widened and the right of way in question is more than 40 meters from the existing road.
- Mining projects that have already obtained an environmental clearance no longer need to apply for a fresh EC while renewing the leases of their mines. To boost coal production, public hearings have been dispensed with in case of coal mine expansions up to 5 million tons per annum if the coal is transported via a rail line or a conveyor belt.
- Environment ministry also clarified that activities within a port don't require separate approvals under the environmental and coastal zone regulations if the port had mentioned such operations in its master plan and has received the requisite clearances.
The Modi government is taking right steps to improve Governance and cutting red tape. These measures should reduce corruption and other hindrances for development. In addition, if the government could introduce accountability and transparency in the various projects it will go a long way to reducing unproductive bureaucracy and increase the staff responsibility to perform efficiently.