Modi Govt Weakened Environmental Laws Under the Influence of Real Estate Developers
In 2016, notifications were issued by the Environment Ministry which diluted Environment Impact Assessment provision.
At the behest of Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Association of India (CREDAI) — the apex body of private real estate developers — the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) reportedly diluted environmental rules and regulations for building construction projects after the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014. The move was made without taking the necessary water and air pollution curbs into consideration.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) also underlined that these changes “cannot stand the scrutiny of law”. According to a Huffington Post report, the Modi government took the adverse measures with an intention to ensure that “India ranked as one of the World Bank’s top 50 most convenient countries to do business in”.
Clearance For Malls, Residential Apartments without Prior Environmental Assessment
In 2016, the PMO directed the Environment Ministry to issue two notifications — in April and December — the draft and the final, respectively. The final document was released after reportedly considering public comments.
This notification diluted the provisions provided by the ministry in 2006. The municipality was given the power to grant environmental clearances for mega-construction projects like malls, residential complexes, among other things. Hence, permissions were given without any scientific expertise and assessment of the adverse impact on the environment. Previously, the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) — a rigorous impact assessment — was an important aspect that was considered before granting environment clearances for projects with a built-up area of 20, 000 square metres and above.
Taking note of the changes introduced by the ministry in 2016, the NGT later stated that the decision was made without conducting any scientific studies to assess its likely impact on the urban environment.
The Role of the Urban Development Ministry
On February 15, 2016, then union urban development minister Venkaiah Naidu sent a letter to then-environment minister Prakash Prakash Javadekar stating that the Urban Development Ministry supported the proposed framework for integrating environmental clearances with the permission to construct buildings. In his letter, Naidu also referred to the February 11, 2016 meeting between the officials of the two ministries.
“It is hoped that this will immensely help the real estate business as a landmark step in Ease of Doing business by ensuring the environmental concerns related to the construction of buildings addressed through different stipulated conditions laid down for different sizes of buildings,” Naidu wrote.
Further, he added that the move would facilitate in improving the country’s ranking in Ease of Doing Business, which is the dream of “our honourable Prime Minister to make efforts for bringing the country in top 50 rank in the world”.
On March 18 2016, the Urban Development Ministry introduced ‘Model Building Bye-Laws 2016’ for all states and union territories. Naidu said that the step was taken “to improve the ease of doing construction business in the national capital as desired by the Prime Minister’s Office”.
The construction sector and pollution
In an order, the NGT quoted that the construction sector emits 22 per cent of India’s total annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emission.
In 2018, the World Health Organisation published a report which stated that 14 out of the 15 most polluted cities are in India. In its scientific research paper published in December 2018, UK-based Lancet highlighted that one in eight deaths in India could be caused due to air pollution. The Union Health Ministry also backed the paper.