The Maharashtra government is considering scrapping of the norm for industries to seek permission for felling trees as part of efforts to improve the business climate in the state. It is also toying with a plan to exempt micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) from obtaining prior government permission for drawing water up to a certain limit from dams in the state.
To improve the business atmosphere in Maharashtra, the Devendra Fadnavis government had earlier scrapped the River Regulation Zone (RRZ) policy, lifting curbs on industries from setting up units alongside river banks, a move that came under criticism from activists and the Opposition.
Sources confirmed that the state industries department had recommended amendments to the tree felling Act for both rural and urban areas. The amendments will discard the need for a permission from the Tree Authority for felling of trees for units functioning in industrial estates controlled by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), industrial zones marked in development plans and regional plans of urban agglomerates, and for industries coming up on agricultural land where the change of use to industry has been formally recognised.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is scheduled to take up these policy changes at a meeting on May 8 to review the status of efforts to improve the ‘ease of doing business’ in the state. The CMO has asked the state urban development, revenue and forest departments to consider the proposed amendments.
The industries department has recommended that prior permission from the Tree Authority can be replaced by a fixed fee for each tree to be cut by such industries.
The department has also sought withdrawal of criminal proceedings for violators of the tree felling Act. It has asked the environment department to consider increasing the fine amount instead.
Ironically, the Shiv Sena, BJP’s ally in the government, which controls the industries portfolio, has been aggressively protesting against felling of trees for development activities in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony, with Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray’s son Aditya leading the charge.
The government is also considering a plan to appoint third party agencies for counting of tree and site inspections.
Arguing that availability of water was a crucial factor to better investment climate, the industries department has further recommended withdrawal of a 2013 government order that provides for stoppage of water to an industry found polluting the water sources. The same order also requires industries to submit fitness certificates from the state pollution control board once every quarter. Citing long delays in approving water quota for MSMEs, the department has also sought exemption from permission for this category of industries for withdrawal of a fixed quota of water.
Apurva Chandra, Principal Secretary, Industries, justified both the amendments. “A tree cutting proposal of hospitality giant ITC Limited for its food processing unit in Ambernath, where an investment of Rs 700 crore has been made, has been pending with the authority for over a year,” he said, adding, “There are also cases of water quota for MSMEs that have been pending for four years.”
A senior government official who did not wish to be named, however, said both the environment department and the water resources department had reservations on the amendments proposed.
“The government must not be seen as pandering excessively to industries while continuing with efforts to improve the overall business climate,” said a senior bureaucrat.
Slamming the proposals, environment activist Stalin D, who has also challenged the government’s decision to scrap RRZ in court, said, “It is absurd and ridiculous that the government feels environmental restrictions have slowed down economical growth. When industries have not fallen in line despite all checks and balances, it is a failed logic to believe that giving them a free hand would turn things around.”
On exemption of water permit for MSMEs, Stalin D said, “The classification of an industry as MSME is based on its investment. It does not look into the industry’s polluting potential.”
Fadnavis to accompany Modi to China
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is likely to accompany Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his three-day official visit to China next week. While details of his agenda have not yet been revealed, officials confirmed the China trip. Modi is scheduled to embark on his China visit on May 14. Meanwhile, the CMO said that the CM’s previously scheduled visit to Japan to attend a function for installation of a statue of Babasaheb Ambedkar at Wakayama Prefecture, had been cancelled. -ENS