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“We direct the Union of India to appoint Regulator with its offices in as many states as possible,” said a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India.
The national regulator will be responsible for “appraising projects, enforcing environmental conditions for approvals and to impose penalties on polluters”.
The Apex court on Monday said project clearances under India’s Forest Act would be granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests but the regulator will see the implementation of the Forest Policy of 1998.
The regulator will also oversee the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) of projects.
Analysts say this top court order has a far-reaching impact and it would be difficult from now onwards to ease the tough EIA scrutiny of projects and to allow their early clearance.
India is the current chair of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity but against the backdrop of an economic slowdown, Indian government ministries have also been lobbying the Environment Ministry to exempt major infrastructure projects from the Forest Rights Act (FRA) obligations.
The country’s national highway authority took the MoFE and the ministry of tribal affairs to the supreme court in January, seeking FRA exemption for projects.
According to the authority, hundreds of infrastructure projects had been frozen due to clearance delays.
Four Indian tribal village councils had in August 2013 voted against London-listed Vedanta PLC’s plan to mine bauxite in eastern India’s Niyamgiri Hills.
Mining progress in India in recent years has been held up by red tape, environmental clearance issues and opposition to land acquisition.
ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel maker, had in July 2013 abandoned a $12 billion project in the eastern Indian state of Odisha due to land acquisition delays while massive protests by locals led global steel major POSCO to pull out of a $5.3 billion steel mill project in India.
TBP and Agencies