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Finally a ray of hope for Anil Agarwal, Vedanta Group Chairman- Image courtesy: SSL
An innocuous clarification issued by Modi Government negating the one given by UPA regime is changing the fortunes of firms that intend to set up their projects in old industrial estates/parks (IEs).
The latest clarification has restored the exemption from public consultation on proposed projects in IEs, which were developed prior to issue of environment impact assessment (EIA) notification 2006.
A major company that stands to benefit from NDA Government’s clarification is Sesa Sterlite Limited (SSL). It has cited the latest clarification to back its claim for exemption from public hearing on its 2nd copper smelter, which would be set up near its existing smelter at Tuticorin in Tamilnadu (TN). 
In its application filed with the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEFCC) on 21st January 2015, the company is seeking re-validation of  environmental clearance (EC) dated 1st January 2009. An EC is valid for five years. 
SSL is a flagship company of Vedanta group, which is bête noir of environmental activists. The company intends to promote the project as a special economic zone (SEZ) at a cost of Rs 2500 crore that includes Rs 585-crore outlay on environmental protection. 
According to SSL’s EIA report on the project, “As per the MoEF&CC Office Memorandum No.J-11013/36/2014-IA-I dated 10th December, 2014, the activities located in the industrial estates/parks are exempted from public hearing. The proposed project is located in State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu Limited (SIPCOT) for which the above said Office Memorandum (OM) is applicable.”
In this OM/clarification, MOEFCC disclosed that it received representations from various industrial associations on OM that was issued during the UPA regime. 
It says: “These representations have been considered by the Ministry. Based on the consideration, the undersigned has been directed to clarify that the exemption from public consultation, as provided for under para 7(i) III. Stage (3)(i)(b) of EIA notification, 2006 is available to the projects or activities or units located within the industrial estates or parks, which were notified prior to 14.09.2006, i.e., the EIA Notification, 2006, coming in to force.”
When UPA was pursuing scorched-earth policy in its twilight days, MOEFCC issued OM dated 16th May 2014, stating that “The exemption from public consultation, as provided for under para7(i) III.Stage(3)(i)(b) of EIA Notification, 2006 is only available to the projects or activities located within the industrial estates or parks, which have obtained prior environmental clearance under EIA Notification, 2006, as provided for under item7(c) of the Schedule.”
Soon after UPA’s diktat, the expert committee for appraisal of industrial projects started delaying grant of ECs to IEs-based projects by asking the applicant companies to first hold public consultations.
In its meeting held during 28th-30th May 2014, the Committee, for instance, stipulated PH for three projects including Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilizers and Chemicals’ (GNFC’s) Rs 4463-crore fertilizers-cum-chemicals expansion project at Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation’s (GIDC’s) industrial area in Bharuch.
Relying on OM dated 16th May 2014, the Committee reversed its decision taken in March 2013 to exempt the project from PH.  GNFC had to thus re-apply for EC in December 2014 after holding PH on 30th September 2014. It is still waiting for EC.
Coming back to UPA-NDA memos, the two clarifications closely resemble each other. The fine print, however, shows that the latest clarification overrules the one issued by UPA in its misconceived quest for populism.
With Modi Government’s clarification, NGOs would not be able to transform the medium of public consultation as an opportunity to whim public passion against SSL project and get generous media coverage.
SSL’s existing copper smelter project at Tuticorin has a long history of opposition with NGOs filing suits right from the period when the project was under implementation. 
The company had put its 2nd smelter project on back burner following a series of environmental cases filed with the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), Madras High Court (MHC), National Green Tribunal and the Supreme Court. 
In 2013, the apex court had imposed a penalty of Rs 100 crore on the company for causing pollution and risking public health. 
According a SSL document filed with the Government, “The proposed project has obtained Environmental Clearance (EC) from Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) vide letter no. J-1101/431/2008-IA II (I) dated 1.1.2009. However, the implementation of project was delayed due to some unavoidable circumstances.”
SSL (formerly Sterlite Industries (india) Limited) first applied for re-validation of EC for on 26th December 2013. The Ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee (Industry) considered the company’s request at its meeting held during 28-30th April 2014. 
According to the minutes of the meeting, the company could not implement the project within the EC validity period because of a writ petition filed before Madurai Bench of MHC in 2009, challenging the grant of EC without public hearing (PH) and without taking into account pollution caused by existing smelter. 
As put by the Minutes, “Matter has been heard extensively and no interim order has been passed in this matter. All the respondents, MOEF, TNPCB, SIPCOT and the Industry have filed their respective affidavits. Matter is yet to be listed thereafter.”
The Minutes stated: “It was clarified that PH has not been held neither for the unit nor for SIPCOT Industrial Estate, where it is located.”
The Committee deferred a decision on the application and asked the company to furnish certain information on six issues including “conduct of PH”. 
The prospects for SSL escaping rigors of PH faded away with UPA’s OM mandating public consultation on projects to be located in industrial estates created before 14th September 2006. Modi Government’s decision to restore status quo that existed prior to UPA’s action has thus revived prospects for SSL’s project. 
SSL’s 2nd smelter would have capacity to produce 4,38000 tonnes per annum (tpa) of copper anode and several by-products, the chief being sulphuric acid which would be produced from emission gases. Of the total production of 1.75 million tpa of sulphuric acid, a part would be consumed in-house to manufacture 292,000 tpa of phosphoric acid. Both the acids serve as building blocks for certain fertilizers such as single super phosphate (SSP) and diammonium phosphate (DAP). 
The EIA report says: “With Indian economy poised for growth, development in infrastructure and power sector will lead to demand of copper. Prior to setting up of the Copper Smelter at Thoothukudi by Sesa Sterlite Limited (SSL), the country was a net importer of Copper. Post setting up of the copper smelter by SSL, the country is able to earn valuable foreign exchange and hence improves the Current Account Deficit.”
It adds: “After this proposed project, India will be No.4 in world copper production. The proposed Copper smelter plant-II will result in considerable growth of stimulating the industrial and commercial activities in the state. Small and medium scale industries may be further developed as downstream industries in this industrial backward area.”
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