New Delhi, Sept. 16: All environment-related roadblocks relating to government projects will be handled by the Prime Minister’s Office, finance minister P. Chidambaram has told a review meeting of infrastructure projects.
His remark suggested the government is in a hurry to complete all infrastructure projects in time for the elections.
Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan and her team appeared to be everyone’s favourite punching bag at the meeting, attended by all core infrastructure ministries, including those for highways, coal, power, petroleum and shipping.
The ministries complained that environmental clearances took two to three years to come and were delaying the majority of projects.
For instance, the road transport ministry is running far behind schedule. It has awarded projects for only 700km of roads so far this year, whereas its target is 9,000km.
As several fingers were raised at Natarajan, Chidambaram intervened to say that the problems that resist solution at the inter-ministry level would be taken to the Prime Minister’s Office, sources said.
“He assured everyone that a solution would be found,” a senior official said.
The highway ministry has been asking for liberal environmental norms. Minister C.P. Joshi cited several problems dogging projects.
For example, the “ordinary earth” used for filling or levelling while building embankments, roads, railway tracks and buildings has been notified as a “minor mineral”. This has made environmental clearances compulsory before burrowing for soil begins.
Earlier, environmental clearances were required only for construction on plots of five hectares or more but a circular issued on May 18 by the environment and forest ministry has made the clearances mandatory for even smaller plots.
Joshi complained that the order was regressive and had put several highway projects on hold. His ministry has demanded that soil be de-notified as a minor mineral.
“The mines secretary has given us an assurance that the change in status will soon be notified,” the official said.
Joshi’s ministry also believes it should not need the environment and forest ministry’s clearances to cut down trees it had itself planted beside highways.
“When we have to widen a road, we have to get clearances from the environment ministry to cut the trees we had planted,” the official said.