Making a presentation at the Environmental Clearance (EC) Committee is often an ordeal. A lot depends on the moods and whims of the Committee Members. The fate of the project i.e. Go or No Go depends on the presentation made by the Consultant hired by the Project Proponent.
A considerable time is spent on the preparation of the presentation. Often rehearsals are made and advice is sought from the past Committee members. The consultant brings along a dozen team members representing various domains of expertise ranging from air pollution to economics, biodiversity, gender and social inclusion. An expert is also brought along, who represents ‘nobody or nothing’ i.e. understands or knows only the project politics. This expert watches and does not generally speak and follows up after the meeting. Despite such heavy preparations, many of the outcomes of the meeting are unpredictable. Getting an EC is just a probability.
I was told that some Project Proponents go to temples, pray and make promises to the Gods with a hope that the Mortal Gods of the EC Committees are kind enough to accord the EC. A temple next to the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has a special counter called Tatkal EC. Those interested, pay a donation of Rs
100,000 to help get the EC on priority. If you pay Rs 500,000 then prayers are made in a more elevated manner, requesting the Gods that EC be issued with least conditions. Cheques/drafts and credit cards are accepted and official receipts are issued. It is a transparent process.
Behind the building where EC Committee meets, there is a small lane where good-luck charms are sold. Legend has it that a project proponent wore a stone of Guru (Jupiter)
and the most vocal member of the Committee suddenly developed a sore throat and could not ask a single question! Getting the EC was then a cake walk.
There are also Swamis who bless the project proponent for the success of EC. They conduct a ritual that includes chanting of mantras for “SRK” (Not Shah Rukh Khan but the planets Shani- Rahu & Ketu). You need however a prior appointment. These Swamis charge a success fee of 0.001% of the project cost and the money is to be paid in cash. Advance payment is required and a refund is provided in case EC is not granted.
There are mixed opinions on which strategy is more effective, i.e. temple offerings, wearing of stones or following the Swamis. A PhD student at IIT is doing a research project focussed on this by conducting interviews and applying some psycho-spiritual models that are based on game theory.
I thought of discussing this interesting facet of EC in India with Professor friend. As usual he was busy. “All these strategies to obtain EC are rubbish. You need a scientific approach and proper training. Come to the Little Theatre at Lodhi Road at 6 pm in the evening to witness how I address this challenge”. I had always liked to eat the mini samosas sold in the foyer of the Little Theatre, so I carried six samosas for me and the Professor in a paper bag and entered the Theatre.
Professor was right on the stage wearing the gown of the ‘Play Director’. He was in action and didn’t notice me coming in. On the stage, there was a long table with 6 people sitting with grim faces, representing the Environmental Clearance Committee. In the front (like a darbar) there were 11 people (poor souls) who represented the Project Proponent. There was an LCD projector in the middle. Some slides were being projected by the Project consultant. This guy had a trembling voice, and his posture was very apologetic. The project was about the construction of a township for 40000 people on a hill.
One of the committee members who was wearing thick spectacles spoke. “All this is fine, but have you carried out climate proofing of the township? I was hoping to see the application of SimChimp software to estimate floods that may happen in 2040. It is important to know whether your stormwater system has factored-in such extreme events that may happen in the future. You should see my recent publication in Current Science stressing the importance of climate proofing in EIA”.
Before, the project consultant could answer, a member from the College of Architecture intervened, “The entire project proposal has missed the point on sustainability. Your township must be zero energy, zero waste and zero water. You have to come up with a plan that ensures the township does not draw a drop of water from outside, recovers all the waste and requires no additional source of energy. The project should become a model to others. I would like my students to get involved in this project to reshape/redesign”.
Then a man wearing a sling bag and a Gandhi topi spoke in a deep voice “Have you considered what will happen to the tribals on the hill? I don’t believe the number of people
you have quoted as displaced is true. You are simply providing wrong data. All the project-affected people need to be compensated for and provided employment. There should also be benefit-sharing out of your profits. This was the latest recommendation from the World Bank during the meeting in Washington DC that I attended. My NGO will be very interested to work as a monitoring and evaluation agency.”
The members spoke one after another and the project consultant was doing his best to defend the project – sometimes requesting members of his expert team to chip in. Heated discussion ensued, with the committee members becoming abrasive. One member suggested that given the sensitivity of the project location, the project proponent should carry out a one-year baseline study with remotely sensed imageries at 0.5 meter resolution. Another member wanted an amphibian survey – “we would like to have this data for research purpose,” he said. “This may not be relevant but there are no publications on this topic and it will be good to know.”
At this point the project proponent lost his temper.
“Cut! Cut!” My Professor friend stopped the conversation. “You cannot lose your temper Sir! Have patience and be philosophical”
“Cut! Cut!” My Professor friend stopped the conversation. “You cannot lose your temper Sir! Have patience and be philosophical” The mock drill was over. The stage was now ‘converted’ into a classroom. The EC committee members, who were the ‘actors’ before, took ‘ordinary seats’. The professor trained the project proponent and his consultant on how to make PowerPoint slides, explaining minute details such as slide template, font color and size and then how to speak, where to pause and how to speak blatant lies with an innocent face, where to bow down even if the question asked was stupid or irrelevant, where to praise the review committee member and where to make tall promises etc. This session was also theatrical as the Professor enacted a few sessions himself. This made the training very real and effective.
As we came out of the Little Theatre, the Professor said, “Such training helps. The success rate is really high and almost all the project proponents who have gone through my training have received speedy Environmental Clearances. All are happy”.
“You must publicize this training programme Professor – it’s an important national service that you are offering,” I said as I finished the leftover samosa. “Oh, I will never do that,” said the professor. “I don’t want this to become a business or a profession. I am sure the NABET of Quality Control Association of India will then come up with another category of accreditation called ‘EIA Theatre Directors’. Theatre personalities like Naseeruddin Shah, Paresh Rawal, Alyque Padamsee, with very little environmental training, will then take over and conventional EIA consultants will have little role to play in getting the Environmental Clearance.”
Cover image sourced from https://blog.compete.com
Where is the elaboration of the process which leads to greater economic
equity — after all, the EC committee members are usually poorly paid
government staff whereas project proponents are capitalists — a money
sharing, even unexplicitly, is surely justified?
Surya Prakash Chandak
Senior Programme Officer
International Environmental Technology Centre
Division of Technology, Industry & Economics
United Nations Environment Programme
2-110 Ryokuchi koen, Tsurumi-ku
Dear Dr. Surya,
If I am poorly paid, then I must search a new job with high salary. Why to get corrupt.
I was Deputy Director in NEERI till 2000 and now research in the area of fuzzy logic applications in many areas including air pollution. Look for Zadeh-Deshpande formalism for air quality classification. I am close to Professor Lotfi Zadeh, the father of fuzzy logic in UC Berkeley. You may read about me on Google. I live in Pune but mostly travel overseas to propagate fuzzy logic from application view point.
Professor Ashok Deshpande PhD (Engineering)
Foundign Chair: Berkeley Initiative in Soft Computing ( BISC)-Special Interest Group ( SIG)-Environment Management Group ( EMS); Guest Faculty: UC Berkeley Ca USA;
Visiting Professor : IITB Mumbai
Ha ha! Seriously, you should teach how to fill the various forms for environmental clearance first!
Dear CK. Glad you enjoyed this blog. On a serious note, I have started running two days training programs on EC
Very Witty article!! Shows other dimensions, facets beyond the usual!!
Wish this knowledge was shared 15 years ago. I must visit the lane behind the building 🙂
On a serious note, the idea of the workshop is really good
Your article on Obama dinner was more of a fiction but this article is, sadly, more of facts. But at the outset let me clarify, money expectation is not a rare issue in appraisal. Not because Corporates can pay, I have lot of respect for impeccable record of most of the EAC members. It is corporates and their consultant who are more happy if EAC member expects/accepts money/favours/gifts. Corporates and Consulatnts are unhappy with members who do not entertain dialogue outside EAC meetings.
The root cause is “power of saying no” that gets bestowed on a till then academic/research person moment he becomes a member. He is in hurry to show his expertise (which most of his colleagues in the EAC do not understand) and impress everyone. Some members feel bad if they are not able to raise any question.
Hence, the basic root cause is selection of Chairman of EAC. He is expected to be environmental specialist/administrator, should have stature above members, should know how and when to intervene, do his homework if members ask for something which is prima facie irrelevant, make attempt to educate EAC members on their role (as defined/expected under notification) etc. I do not think international agencies send person from administration as “mission head”. We, environmental professionals in India, do not stand collectively, work objectively and respect each other (specially when person being discussed is not around).
Let all of us start calling spade a spade, inculcate habit of accepting that individual limits to our area of expertise before we preach others.
VERY FUNNY AND ENJOYABLE.
It is a sorry state of affairs when such an important decision making tool has become a natak. We need to really device some wholesome process to correct the situation.
A suggestion was made in one of the training programs I recently conducted. Just like a video recording is asked of the Public Hearing, could we ask for video recording of the EC Committee meetings? Could these clippings be made available on MoEFCC website?
So much for speed – SC kept in dark about threat from six Uttarakhand dams. Government did not disclose warnings in the expert committee report against permitting the projects in their current shape; instead, gave opposite picture.
The best option is to make appraisal committees as full time bodies.
Present problem is meetings are once a month. In any meeting day 10-20 projects are expected to be appraised that means in about 6 hours a project presentation an discussion can maximum last for 20 to 30 minutes. Each month EAC member receives about 30-40 project proposals/EIA report, most of the time maximum 3 days in advance. He is expected to go through all documents, be ready with his comments, book his tickets, arrange for accommodation, arrange for local transport and ensure that if he working his work does not suffer. For all this he is paid handsome amount of Rs. 3000/- per day + outstation travel cost (local taxi charges at Rs. 7.5 per km) . And we expect outcome at par with “Missions”. Then the question is why should one become Member of EAC. My observation is it is either to improve CV or maintain networking (if you are based in Delhi). Many members prefer to not to attend all meetings. In my considered view work done by EAC members is at par with social service (at least in majority cases).