Parivartan through Parivesh (A New Transformation in India’s Environmental Clearance System)

India’s PM launched PARIVESH (Pro-Active and Responsive facilitation by Interactive, Virtuous and Environmental Single-window Hub) on the occasion of World Biofuel Day. PARIVESH is a Single-Window Integrated Environmental Management System, developed in pursuance of the spirit of ‘Digital India’ initiated by the Prime Minister and capturing the essence of Minimum Government and Maximum Governance and Ease of Doing Responsible Business.

With PARIVESH, Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has become more of a facilitator than a regulator.  “PARIVESH” is a workflow-based application and has been rolled out for online submission, monitoring and management of proposals submitted by Project Proponents. It will help to seek various types of clearances (e.g. Environment, Forest, Wildlife and Coastal Regulation Zone Clearances) from Central, State and district-level authorities.  It has been designed, developed and hosted by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, with technical support from National Informatics Centre, (NIC), New Delhi.

Highlighting that PARIVESH offers a framework to generate economic growth and strengthens Sustainable Development through E Governance, Union Environment Minister stated that with automatic highlighting of non-compliance by the system, PARIVESH will help in improving the overall performance and efficiency of the whole appraisal process.

PARIVESH accepts online submission and monitoring of compliance reports including geo-tagged images of the site by regulatory body / inspecting officers through website as well as  Mobile App for enhanced compliance monitoring.  Further a Geographic Information System (GIS) interface is available for the Appraisal Committee to help them in analyzing the proposal efficiently, automatic alerts (via SMS and emails) at important stages to the concerned officers, committee members and higher authorities to check the delays, if any.  “PARIVESH” enables project proponents, citizens to view, track and interact with scrutiny officers, generates online clearance letters, online mailers and alerts to state functionaries in case of delays beyond stipulated time for processing of applications.

Immediately after the release of the PARIVESH website, an emergency meeting was held in Diwane I Khas of Taj Mahal at Mansingh Road in Delhi. Several “stakeholders” were present at this secret get-together. Even Times Now and Republic TV channels did not know that such a meeting was being held. Rumor was that team NDTV was however present there disguised as the waiters.

 

Diwane I Khas at Taj Mahal Hotel

The stakeholders included consultants offering services of Environmental Clearance (EC) and those involved in accelerating the work flow of EC by greasing the officials. The former looked like foxes and the latter looked like hyenas.  Then there were Ex-EC committee members and the Ex-chairmen of the EC committees who do the business of giving “strategic advice” to the project proponents. They occupied separate roundtables to show their different stature and position.  And there were many representatives of environmental monitoring agencies who “generate” the base line data (mostly unreal) but for helping a speedy EC. They looked more like a herd of sheep.

My Professor friend found about this “secret” meeting and asked me to accompany.

“How will we introduce ourselves Professor” I asked this question.

“Oh, don’t worry Dr Modak”, Professor said while lighting his cigar “We will say that we are from the headquarters of International Association of Impact Assessment (IAIA). We will need to dress up a bit, wear a suit and a tie and sport a lapel of IAIA. I am a Member but have a spare one that I will give to you”

Very clever I thought. I knew that IAIA has no India chapter and hardly anything is known about their work. Some had told me that  the only thing known is that IAIA holds annual conferences in exotic places across the world striving to make money. This may not be true of course.

When we entered the room, we saw that one roundtable was occupied by representative of the World Bank Group and the Asian Development Bank. These representatives were the “safeguard” people and had constipated faces as they were doing nothing except keep finding faults in the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) documents submitted by the clients (actually by consultants). They used Microsoft Word only in track change mode. On the same table, I saw some familiar faces from the BIG 4. These folks were sitting like proud cocks and hens, distinguishing from the “normal” ESIA consultants, sporting a “buddha” face that indicated “we know the truth”.

The last to enter the room were a few corporate honchos. They had ensured that media was not present and that there presence wont get “recorded”. I heard them whispering that this level of transparency in EC was a bit too much! Now we will not have any “play” to influence and tweak the workflow any more – especially  when most needed. They said.

One Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) said that “well today the e-governance is set for EC, but I wont be surprised if this gets extended to the Business Responsibility Reporting (BRR) and CSR Reporting. This will make rather difficult to bluff – that we usually do – while making tall claims about the social development and environmental improvements that we are supposed to do. I could understand their fear and discomfort.

Finally, we saw a table of “corporate” environmental NGOs. They looked a bit skeptical about PARIVESH as the present system allowed them to make allegations and write stories.  But they looked a bit supportive to the idea of PARIVESH  – as they were interested to find out how to “exploit” the new system to their advantage. That’s most of the NGOs of this kind do. Don’t they?

The main point of discussion was to assess the impact of PARIVESH on the “ecosystem” of stakeholders to EC. Everybody wanted a solution and a counter-strategy. After some initial chaos, several observations and suggestions were made.

The consultants engaged in the EC facilitation felt that PARIVESH will lead to a big loss to their income. The strategic advisers said that they would soon lose their clout and may become redundant. As PARIVESH will pool national environmental data across 135+ “layers” on a GIS platform, the business of generating (fake) baseline data will suffer. The environmental NGOs felt that now that citizens will get information on the entire work-flow of the EC online, their function of “representing the people” and “feeding breaking news”  may get a bit compromised.

When one of the Corporate NGOs saw lapel of IAIA on Professors coat asked why can’t IAIA undertake a study on the Impact Assessment of PARIVESH. Professor behaved as if he was hard of hearing, but I thought it was a great idea.

As expected, the meeting ended with no clear direction on the next steps. Perhaps, the fact that PARIVESH became actually operational was a shock to many. Not many knew  that this “typhoon” was coming. PARIVESH looked like a secret operation carried out as in  nuclear blast at Pokharan!

While exiting Diwane I Khas, I overheard the conversation at the table of the World Bank et al and the BIG 4.

One of the BIG 4 was asking the World Bank safeguards specialist “Will PARIVESH make your work in the World Bank redundant? Given the “equivalence” between your safeguard system and India’s EC procedure, you may not now need to conduct ESIA in your style and do all the supervision”

The man from the World Bank answered “In a way, you are right. But after listening to the discussions of today, we are thinking of supporting a program on Rehabilitation of PARIVESH affected stakeholders (PAPs in Bank parlance) and come up with an alternate Income Generation Scheme (IGS)”

“Oh, very clever!” l I said to myself

I then realized how smart the World Bank is.


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You may like to read some of my related posts

How to get Speedy Environmental Clearance?

https://prasadmodakblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/how-to-get-speedy-environmental-clearance/

Indian Weddings now require Environmental Clearance

https://prasadmodakblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/23/indian-weddings-now-require-environmental-clearance/

Impact Assessment of Environmental Impact Assessment

https://prasadmodakblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/impact-assessment-of-environmental-impact-assessment/

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