The Union environment ministry has, using a bureaucratic loophole, lifted a ban on expansion and setting up of factories in eight critically polluted industrial belts.
The moratorium was imposed based on the performance of the clusters on a Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI) developed by the Central Pollution Control Board and introduced by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2009. It measures industrial belts on a scale of zero to 100. A reading above 70 is termed “critically polluted” and a moratorium imposed on expansion.
After imposing a round of moratoriums on many industrial belts, the UPA government continued to review improvements undertaken to reduce pollution. Industrial belts that improved with time were periodically taken out of the banned list.
But eight of these showed worsening trends: Ghaziabad (Uttar Pradesh), Panipat (Haryana), Singrauli (Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh), Vapi (Gujarat), Indore, (Madhya Pradesh), Jharsuguda (Odisha), Ludhiana (Punjab) and Patancheru-Ballaram (Andhra Pradesh). In September 2013 the government noted, “The CEPI scores indicate (for the eight clusters) that even after a period of two-and-a-half years of implementation of action plans, there is no improvement in the environmental quality.” The moratorium on these eight industrial clusters remained.
With pressure building within the UPA to ease the moratorium, the environment ministry asked the Central Pollution Control Board to review the index itself and come up with another formulation within four months. Now, the NDA government has cited a delay in the review of the index to allow new factories and expansion in the polluted industrial zones on merit, practically doing away with the moratorium.
The government order of June 10 reads, “The report with respect to the entire CEPI concept i.e. taking into account all constituents as originally formulated in 2009, is yet to be received from CPCB. It is felt that re-assessment of CEPI taking into account all its constituents as originally formulated in 2009 are a must before taking a view on re-imposition of moratorium in any centrally polluted area.”
It adds, “It has, therefore, been decided to keep in abeyance until further orders…to the extent it related to the re-imposition of moratorium in eight centrally polluted areas till CPCB re-assesses the CEPI taking into account all constituents of index as originally envisaged in 2009,” the order further stated.
Till the CEPI index is reviewed, the ministry will consider environment clearance of all the projects in these areas. The environment ministry has asked the CPCB to prepare a report on CEPI index within a year instead now which would permit the government to clear expansion and new industrial activity in these zones till the revised index is decided.
Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar was not available for comment despite several attempts. However, Javadekar has maintained that his ministry will not compromise environment for development.
“I have said very clearly that our motto is development without destruction. Development and environment will go hand-in-hand because these aren’t anti-thesis to each other,” Javadekar had told Business Standard in an interview earlier this month.