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LAPSE OF CONDITIONAL CLEARANCE TO SSP

Summary: The clearance given to SSP In 1987, by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, was conditional. It was stipulated that within a specified time period, various assessments and workplans had to be prepared. The implication was that if these conditions were not fulfilled, clearance would be revoked, which in turn meant that further construction would not be permitted. However, despite the clear and acknowledged fact that for several years these conditions have remained unfulfilled, clearance has not been formally revoked, and construction has been allowed to continue. This makes a mockery of the entire process of environmental clearance.

In 1987, conditional environmental clearance was given to the SSP by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). For several years before that, the Ministry had stalled clearance because it felt that data was inadequate to make a decision either way. During this period, intense political pressure was mounted by the Government of Gujarat on the Centre, demanding a quick clearance. Finally, in late 1986, the MoEF appeared to be giving in to this pressure. Nevertheless, it expressed its uneasiness with the state of project planning in the case of both SSP and its sister dam, Narmada Sagar Project (NSP), in a note sent to the Prime Minister in late 1986 (MoEF 1986).

In this note, the Ministry emphasized that though project formulation had been in progress for more than three decades, the absence and inadequacy of data on some important environmental aspects still persisted. The Ministry acknowledged that "the NSP is not ready for approval in an objective sense" and thus, given the critical technical and operational linkages between the two projects, felt that "it is neither desirable nor recommended that the SSP should be given approval in isolation on technical and other grounds". Expressing further reservations, it was stated that "it is possible that the requisite information would at no time be fully available". However, in a familiar and completely unjustified argument, the Ministry acknowledged that "a large amount of money has already been invested on SSP" (at that time less than 5% of project costs had been spent!) but felt that "it may not be too late even now to modify some of the parameters of NSP and SSP to minimise environmental damage".

The Ministry's note held out the promise of capitulation with the accompanying fig-leaf of shifting blame for future mishaps. It recommended the setting up of a body with "adequate powers and teeth to ensure that the Environmental Management Plan does not remain only on paper but is implemented; and implemented pari passu with engineering and other works." The term "pari passu", literally meaning 'with equal speed' or 'simultaneously and equally', is bureaucratese par excellence. It sounds reassuring, but means practically very

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