The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests’ (MoEF) Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on river valley and hydroelectric Projects is supposed to scrutinise each project proposal minutely before approving. Yet, the panel which many are now calling ‘Expert Approval Committee,’ has not rejected a single of the 262 hydropower and irrigation projects it considered over 63 meetings since April 2007. Even in the case of the two projects the EAC declined to recommend clearance, it has asked the developers to come back with reformulated proposals for reconsideration.
The EAC which is now meeting on February 2nd has never rejected final Environment Clearance to any project. Even when other committees have recommended certain projects not be cleared, the EAC has found reasons to reject the recommendations itself. Many projects thus approved by EAC have been rejected by other statutory authorities, mostly for reasons within the EAC mandate.
Moreover the EAC has never rejected any environmental impact analysis (EIA) done by project developers, or asked for fresh public hearings, even when given evidence of serious deficiencies in the EIA or the public hearing process. The EAC functioning has seen violations of legal, environmental and the panel’s own norms. In fact the functioning throws up inconsistencies and lack of appreciation of key issues like cumulative impact assessment, biodiversity impact assessment, services provided by the rivers, carrying capacity, environment flows and comprehensive social impact assessment.
“Where is the appraising in this?” asked Parineeta Dandekar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People. She told DNA, “The corporate world had called the committee ‘a green terror’ when it was formed saying this’ll delay their projects further. What’s more even the Prime Minister had joined this corporate chorus calling the MoEF’s EAC a road block to development and investment,” and laughed, “The EAC is living up to the sobriquet. It is turning out to be a real green terror, considering they’ve recommended as many as 10 projects at one go in some meetings. With an EAC like that do we need any other threats to our environment?”
Other activists like Himanshu Thakkar pointed out how the government has continuously reneged on its commitments by uprooting people, destroying livelihoods, cutting down forests, killing water bodies and destroying ecologies. “The EAC’s strike rate of approvals show how contrary to the impression sought to be created the MoEF is pro-projects, pro-private developers even at the cost of ecology and local communities. The brouhaha over green terror seems like a ploy to stop even the obligatory symbolic action and let corporates do as they please.”
Analysis of EAC’s figures shows how in less than six years, the EAC has recommended TORC (Terms of Reference Clearance or Stage I clearance) for hydropower projects proposed with an installed capacity of 49,458 MW. This is nearly 25% more than what India has installed in about 66 years since Independence. During the period, the EAC has recommended EC (final Environmental Clearance) for hydropower capacity of 1,60,84.5 MW, which is about three times the hydro capacity of 5,544 MW added during the just concluded 11th five-year plan. During the period, EAC has given TORC for 3.28 million hectares of cultivable irrigated area and EC for 1.59 million cultivable irrigated area. Here we should note that since 1991-92, there has been no addition to the net area irrigated by major and medium irrigation projects at all India level according to the government of India’s own figures. In light of that fact and considering the overcapacity already built into a number of basins across India already, such clearances by EAC are highly questionable.