India's Statutory Auditor Finds Lapses In Environmental Clearance For Coastal Projects

Inadequate EIA reports, lack of experts in approval committees plague project clearance in coastal areas.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Still of the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link project. (Source: L&amp;T)</p></div>
Still of the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link project. (Source: L&T)

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India has found inadequacies in the environment impact assessment reports that are used as the basis for granting clearance to projects in coastal areas.

It was observed that in several cases between 2015 and 2020 the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change gave project approvals even when their EIA reports did not comprehensively address the ecological concerns.

Out of 43 sampled project approvals, the CAG found 14 where studies even failed to identify the key biodiversity in the project are and did not present any mitigation measures to alleviate the risks faced by the flora and fauna.

"Mitigation plans to address the risks to environment posed by these projects were not adequate as the risks were only cursorily addressed in many projects," it said.

16 of these project approvals were also given without any disaster management plan in place, that is one of the key prerequisites.

Besides, the audit also reveals that several of these EIA reports are being prepared by consultants without accreditation as is required by regulation. In 21 cases, the EIA consultant was either non-accredited, or not accredited for the sector specific to the project.

Another 12 project approvals were found to have been given where the EIA reports made use of outdated baseline data. One of the prominent cases is Mumbai's coastal road project that will connect Princess Flyover with Worli. The project's EIA, conducted in 2016, justified the construction of the road based on traffic studies which were conducted in 2008.

The environment ministry gave its clearance in 2018 without updating the baseline data or taking into account the major infrastructure development near the project, the CAG said.

Even the committees that granted clearances to these projects, CAG found, did not have any domain experts in multiple instances. There were cases noted when less than half of the total strength of the EAC were present for deliberations.

CAG's report focusses on project clearances that fall under the coastal regulation zone norms. The norms were notified in 2019, under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, to protect the environment of coastal stretches and marine areas.