In order to realize its dream of 'housing for all by 2022,' the Centre has proposed to ease green norms for the building and construction sector where projects up to 50,000 sq metres will not require prior 'environmental clearance'.
A draft notification in this regard was issued by the environment ministry last week, increasing the threshold of built up area for getting this relief from 20,000 sq metres to 50,000 sq metres. Such projects will, however, have to fulfil "environmental conditions" through self declaration and certification while seeking building/construction permission from local authorities.
Though the ministry argued that the proposed move would streamline the permissions for building and construction sector to fulfil its objective to make available "affordable housing to weaker sections in urban areas", environmentalists are wary about the builders misusing the norms for constructing shopping malls and multiplexes.
"The draft notification is nothing but absurd. It'll not only benefit builders but also damage environment in urban areas. The ministry has, in fact, brought this in violation of the recent order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT)", said environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta.
Dutta referred to NGT's order which had quashed a similar notification by the ministry in January. The ministry had in December, 2016 notified that projects of the size of 5,000 sq metres to less than 20,000 sq metres will no require prior environmental clearance (EC). It was, however, challenged in the NGT which subsequently quashed the notification.
Though the ministry appealed against this order in the Supreme Court, it has now come out with a fresh proposal increasing the project threshold from 20,000 sq metres to 50,000 sq metres even as the matter is pending before the apex court.
Once the final order is notified after 60 days, the new rules will replace the existing one under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2006 which asks for EC to any project of more than 20,000 sq metres. The stakeholders, in the meantime, can send their objections or suggestions to the ministry.
Under the proposal, the 'environmental conditions' will be integrated in building bye-laws of all the states and Union Territories (UTs). As part of fulfilling those conditions, the projects will have to use water efficient appliances, rainwater harvesting, waste management system, energy efficient systems, renewable power and maintain air quality and noise standards.
Besides, they'll also have to maintain green cover within stipulated area. It will be the responsibility of local authorities to see whether the projects adhere to those conditions.
"It's really very strange. Local authorities don't have capacity to monitor or enforce it. Had this been the case, Delhi would not have faced that much of unauthorised construction in violation of bye-laws which we had seen during the recent sealing exercise," said Dutta.