In the first ever sign that the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) is willing to consider a long-standing demand from the realty industry, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar Friday said “due diligence” would be conducted in the matter of raising the exemption limit for building construction projects that require an environmental nod.
The request was made in a recent missive by Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu to Javadekar. In the letter, the former stressed the need to raise the limit for building projects exempt from seeking environment clearances from the present 20,000 sq metres of built-up area to 50,000 sq metres of built-up area.
Such a dilution of norms would allow more than half of all real estate projects in the country to proceed without a green nod, said sources in the industry.
Addressing the annual conference of the National Real Estate Development Council (NAREDCO) in the national capital Friday, Javadekar, who was sharing the dais with Naidu, said the realty sector’s demand is under consideration by his ministry.
The issue has for long been a bone of contention between the two ministries. A 2006 Environment Impact Assessment notification mandates that all constructions with a built-up area larger than 20,000 sq m and townships over a land area of 50 hectares have to be assessed by the state-level environmental agencies for its impact on the land, water and air quality, aesthetics, vegetation and fauna and socio-economic factors.
Naredco as well as several industry bodies have long been pushing to stretch this limit to 50000 sq.m and 100 hectares respectively. In February this year, then housing minister from Congress Girija Vyas wrote to MOEF minister Veerappa Moily asking the latter to increase the threshold limit for environmental clearance to 50,000 sq m at least for affordable housing projects. Blaming the inordinate delays in green clearance as one of the reasons for housing shortage, the letter said “The real estate projects have to suffer huge losses due to cost escalation, time overrun and uncertainty.”
The realty industry has long been lobbying for completely doing away with environmental clearance for real estate projects and instead give the green go-ahead mandate to local urban bodies which issue building permissions. Five years ago, a central government panel under additional environment secretary ruled against easing the norms noting that existing building clearance rules of urban local bodies do not have enough safeguards to ensure environmental compliance and that any such waiver would have an adverse effect on “the surrounding biotic and abiotic environment”.
Assuring developers that there would be regulatory easing as long as they comply with environmental norms without resorting to any “short-cuts”, Javadekar said.
“Unlike one of the former environment ministers who was popular was a no-go minister and another one who imposed taxes, we will co-operate.”