Real Estate Projects May No Longer Need Environmental Clearances

An environment ministry proposal, effectively already in use thanks to the urban development ministry, says that the construction sector will no longer need mandatory environmental clearances if states put green norms in building bye-laws.

The environment ministry has proposed that the construction sector will no longer need mandatory environmental clearances under the Environment Protection Act 1986, as long as states impose pre-specified standard green norms under their building bye-laws.

Under the current law, building projects larger than 20,000 square metres are required to carry out an environment impact assessment study. Only if the project is deemed safe by this study are environmental clearances given.

Hindustan Times quoted experts as saying that this change will take the construction industry out of the environment ministry’s purview and no project can then be challenged on environmental grounds before the National Green Tribunal.

“This will mean, no construction project can be ever stopped or rejected on environmental grounds. Since there will be no environment clearance under the Environment Protection Act, the projects could also not be challenged before the National Green Tribunal which doesn’t have its jurisdiction over the state building bylaws,” said environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta told Hindustan Times.

According to a report by Nitin Sethi in Business Standard, even before mandatory public consultation and notification on this proposal has taken place, the urban development ministry has already amended their model building bye-laws and announced that environmental clearances for the construction sector will be relaxed. The ministry has asked that states adopt these model bye-laws in order to avoid clearances – something the Delhi Development Authority has already done.

According to documents accessed by them, Sethi’s report continues, the environment and urban development ministries consulted repeatedly to decide how the ‘ease of doing business’ could be increased for the entire real estate and construction sectors. This is different from the environment ministry’s reason for the proposal as publicly stated – to provide housing for weaker sections of society under the ‘Housing For All’ scheme. However, it is not only structures for housing economically weaker sections but all buildings that will fall under this exemption.

While the urban development ministry did not respond to Business Standard‘s request for a comment, the environment ministry told them that the changes “Will not only go a long way in easing the procedure for doing business without compromising environment conditions, it would also instil a spirit of competition among the states.”

The urban development ministry shared the draft of the model bye-laws with the environment ministry. The environment ministry had two key suggestions to make, Business Standard reported. One was to replace “dispense with environment clearances” in one part of the bye-laws with “Integrate the environment clearance with building permissions”. It also said that the heading of a chapter should use the phrase “integration of environmental clearance conditions with building permissions” in place of “delegation of environmental clearance to local authorities.” The changes were made, though the sub-chapter delegating powers to local authorities was consequently called “Requirement for climate resilient construction”.

The environment ministry did not ask that the urban development ministry wait to change the model bye-laws until the processes of consultation on its proposal were complete.