New Delhi: The central government will use the geographic information system to grant faster environmental clearances for infrastructure projects through the recently launched Parivesh portal, the environment ministry has informed the Rajya Sabha. The use of technology will reduce the time taken to approve proposals by as much as 30%, officials said.
“Parivesh is a single-window integrated environmental management system for online submission and monitoring of the proposals submitted by the proponents for seeking Environment, Forest, Wildlife and Coastal Regulation Zone clearances from the Central Government,” junior environment minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey said in Parliament on December 8. “It is a GIS based system and analytics platform that provides information to various stakeholders using Decision Support System functionality.”
Choubey was responding to a question by parliamentarians S Kalyansundaram, M Mohamed Abdulla and R Girirajan of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam on whether the government proposes to host a complete suite of GIS applications like working plan, wildlife corridor mapping and social forestry.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the Pro-Active and Responsive facilitation by Interactive and Virtuous Environment Single-window Hub (Parivesh 2.0) when he inaugurated the National Conference of Environment Ministers in Ekta Nagar, Gujarat, in September. The single-window integrated environmental management system has been in the pipeline for over a year.
The environment ministry already uses GIS for E-Greenwatch to track plantations and other forestry work taken up under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) fund and the Forest Survey of India uses Van Agni Geo-portal to provide for viewing of forest fire-related data.
“The Parivesh system has been populated with maps of coastal areas, forest areas, eco-sensitive zones, etc. The moment an applicant wants to file an application for clearance, he will be told what clearances the project will need. This reduces a great amount of time since most of the work is now automated,” a ministry official said, seeking anonymity.
The new process will make monitoring more efficient and reduce site visits by officials to check compliance. “The tagging of projects on the GIS system will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the monitoring of environmental clearances,” the official said. “The spot visits by the officials will be continued as per the requirement. However, the number of visits will be reduced as the proximity analysis can be done through desktop assessment on GIS system.”
This will reduce the time taken to assess and grant clearances by about 30%, he added.
Environmental clearances used to take an average of 600 days eight years ago, which has now been reduced to just 75 days, Modi had said in the national conference. Many projects have gained momentum since the implementation of PM Gati Shakti National Master Plan for multimodal connectivity infrastructure, the Prime Minister had said.
Experts expressed reservations on the new system of clearance and monitoring.
“I think the GIS system will be used more for granting clearances and not for monitoring,” said Ritwick Dutta, an environmental lawyer. “Because these tools cannot be used for monitoring compliance. A liquid discharge system or loading and unloading of mineral resources at night cannot be monitored like this. A part of it can be monitored though.”
“The ministry’s focus on technological inputs to ensure environmental compliance and monitor actions of projects is important. Such actions can be strengthened if space can also carved for bottom up input in the process in public interest,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at Centre for Policy Research, a think tank. “Decentralised regulatory interface can strengthen the technological improvements that the ministry is looking to introduce.”