A draft amendment to the Environment Protection Act is being contemplated. If this goes through almost 90 per cent of industrial projects will come through without facing a public hearing. This may reverse years of conservation effort and will definitely marginalise all stakeholders. The Ministry of Environment and Forests ( moef ) has come up with this draft notification that exempts certain categories of industry from a public hearing as the moef feels that these activities are not damaging to the environment since they are in the small scale sector. For instance small scale industrial units, mining projects with a lease area up to 25 hectares and widening and strengthening of highways.
What the government is doing is not new. It has always blindly promoted the small scale sector in the mistaken belief that this has no impact upon the environment. There was a feeling that this sector created more jobs and aided the process of industrial dispersal. But the government has always ignored the tremendous pollution potential of this sector.
For one this sector uses very low-grade technology, which inevitably generates very high levels of pollution and waste. Moreover there is very little cost-effective pollution control technology. Therefore there is a tendency to avoid using pollution control equipment and in the case of mining to avoid ecological restoration. All this is done with an idea to maximise profits. A corrupt regulatory mechanism makes things easy for this sector and encourages such moves by the units. Even the large units are not guilt free and tend to dump their more polluting processes into the small sector for their own benefit.
Therefore to nip the matter in the bud it would be advisable to hold public hearings, rather than do away with them. If any sector needs careful monitoring it is the small scale sector because it has a significant role to play in maintaining a healthy environment. So it would be better if the government reserved only non-polluting activities for this sector. Also the system of public hearing is a vital part of decentralising the decision-making process and must not be done away with.