With environmental and forest clearance stalling a majority of projects in the country, the upcoming digitisation drive of the Ministry of Environment and Finance hopes to unclog the delays. Garima Pant reports.
In a bid to try and get to the root cause of the delays that were stalling the implementation of projects in the country, the Project Monitoring Group (PMG) under its Chairman Anil Swarup has initiated a process to digitise the whole procedure through which clearances happen. "Our job at the PMG will get reduced as then we will know why the delays are happening and the clogging will not happen. This process will help us look into the timelines of these processes that could be fixed and also be transparently monitored,"says Swarup, who has facilitated the clearance of 147 projects worth over Rs 5 lakh crore and involving over 200 issues.
The Swarup-led PMG has started the exercise of digitising the entire clearance process in Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and hopes to go completely online by 1 July this year to make the entire process more transparent. This would be followed by a similar digitisation drive in the mines ministry as well.
"This move will also help the industry to understand where the proposal is getting stuck,"said Sawrup. The measures towards digitising project clearances took forefront after some high-profile projects, including Posco's Rs 53,000-crore steel plant in Odisha and Tata Sasol's Rs 60,000 crore coal-to-liquid plant were stalled due to delays in issuing prospecting licenses to undertake mining.
With almost 42 per cent of the projects getting stuck with the MoEF, it made perfect sense to initiate transparent monitoring in the ministry. "It was the largest area where we thought we ran into issues, so we thought of taking it up first,"said Swarup, adding that the thought got a positive response from the MoEF, making it easier to initiate the entire exercise. Discussions at various levels took place and through the support of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), a document was prepared, which became the base document on which discussions happened. A national level workshop was organised inviting people from the field to provide their understanding of the project that the PMG understood and also to determine the timelines at each level. The team at the environment ministry, headed by the Joint Secretary will oversee the entire process. The idea is to eliminate redundant, irrelevant and non-standard clauses that unnecessarily delay granting of approvals. This could result in reducing the number of clearances needed for any project, reorganisation of certain appraisal committees involved in the process and ensure better coordination between multiple agencies. For instance, setting up of a power project in the country requires at least 65 clearances, with key ones needed from the MoEF to get the project going.
The proposal entails that the applications for the MoEF clearance will not be given in hard version, but applied on the portal. "By the end of April, the software on the forest clearance will be ready enabling the digital movement of the application between the Centre and the state as it is more cumbersome and takes a lot of time. The proposed structure dispenses this hard copy exchange between the Centre and the state but the processing will still happen on the file (hard copy) itself, but the tracking will be on the Web to understand where the file is,"explains Swarup.
Timelines will remain the same as the panel in the first stage is only focusing on digitising and tracking of the applications, as Swarup believes that even if that is taken care of, that will improve the state of affairs. The monitoring of the environment clearance will be up and running after a month after the digitisation of the forest clearance. According to estimates by the Boston Consulting Group, the number of projects that have got delayed have gone up from 34 per cent to 51 per cent over the last six years while the number of projects over Rs 150 crore have come down from 900 a year to 600 a year, a decline of 35 per cent. BCG statistics also revealed in 2013, the number of projects running on time were 285 whereas 302 projects (or 51 per cent of the total) were stuck.
By the end of April, the software on the forest clearance will be ready Anil Swarup, Chairman, Project Monitoring Group