Six years after they were put on “critically polluted area” list, the Modi government Saturday announced the decision to lift the moratorium on expansion and new investments in Gujarat’s industrial clusters of Ankleshwar, Vapi and Vatva. The announcement comes just a day ahead of the municipality elections in Vapi where the moratorium has been lifted.
“Announced removal of moratorium on Ankleshwar, Vapi and Vatva GIDC as critically polluted industrial clusters. No restriction on development,” tweeted Anil Madhav Dave, the Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) moments after he made the decision public at a gathering of industrialists at Ankleshwar in south Gujarat.
During the event at Ankleshwar where Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani was present, Dave told industrialists, “On 10th or 13th of January 2010, Ankleshwar woke up to a dark day. You will not expand, you will not do development, you will not set up new industries because you trigger pollution. Restrictions were imposed. Today, I am here to remove these restrictions… You are independent.” The audience stood up and clapped and shouted, “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” after the minister’s statement.
In January 2010, the UPA government had imposed a moratorium on environmental clearance for new projects (and expansions) in 43 “critically polluted” industrial clusters across the country to stimulate environmental remediation and mitigation activities by the industry and the state governments.
“Gujarat’s environment minister was telling me that earlier when we used to pass through this area (Ankleshwar),, it used to stink. That is not the case anymore. People are doing good work,” the minister said, adding that an entire area cannot be labelled as polluting. “There can be good and bad fishes in the same pond… Good industrialists should be rewarded and bad ones should be punished… I am planning to change the rule that enforces a ban on the entire area,” Dave said.
He also said that there was no need for industries to seek environment clearance if there are any changes in the “product mix”. “I also want to tell you one more thing … whatever changes to product mix that you do, as long as your net production does not change and if the net pollution is not increasing, then there is no need to seek an environment clearance.”
The decision comes as a boost for industrialists in these clusters engaged in the production of chemicals, dyes, pigments, pharmaceuticals etc. After the announcement, CM Rupani expressed happiness and tweeted: “A blanket ban on existing industry in these regions was hindrance for new investments as well as for expansion of plants and machinery.”
However, environmentalists have objected and criticised the move. Describing it as “hasty”, Rohit Prajapati, a Vadodara-based environmental activist, stated in a release, “Let me remind the environment ministry and chief minister of Gujarat that the ground water of these areas is severely polluted and no concrete steps have been taken for the remedial measures to decontaminate the ground water.”
“The imposition of the moratorium during the UPA government was a quiet affair that stands in stark contrast today when the BJP government lifted the moratorium in a grand show in the presence of industrialists from Vapi, Ankleshwar & Vatva. Announcement in such a way clearly tells that the environment ministry is not for the protection of environment, but instead has an agenda of the industrial lobby,” he added.