Since the end of 1989, it has been repeatedly pointed out that clearance should technically be deemed to have lapsed, since the conditions have never been fulfilled. This has been admitted as such in various meetings of the Environment Sub-group of the Narmada Control Authority. For instance, in the Agenda for the 9th Meeting of the Sub-group, the Ministry of Environment and Forests noted that:
" ... a number of studies and surveys are still being carried out based on which Environmental Action Plans would be formulated. In the absence of a definite time frame for each of the studies, surveys or action plans, the implementation of the requisite safeguards and action plans pari passu with the construction of engineering work would obviously not be possible. Under the circumstances, the approval granted must be deemed to have lapsed ... It is therefore, considered imperative that project authorities be directed to ... seek renewal of environmental and forestry clearance beyond December 1989."
As far as our knowledge goes, no such fresh clearance was sought and obtained; on the other hand, violation of conditions has continued. Despite this, construction on the Project has been allowed to carry on. The Narmada Control Authority unilaterally decided that fresh clearance was not needed ( Maudgal 1993). Clearly, the Ministry of Environment and Forests on its own does not have the clout to order a halt to construction, even if it might make veiled threats to the effect.
Remember that the Planning Commission too gave conditional clearance to the SSP in 1988; one condition was that the environmental conditionalities should be fulfilled. Thus, this clearance too should have deemed to have lapsed. The strange anomaly is that, since the forest clearance stipulated that studies were to be completed by the end of 1987, the conditions had already been violated when the Planning Conunission accorded conditional clearance in 1988!
The MoEF and the Planning Commission must share the blame for reducing the sanction of conditional clearance to a travesty, for the authority of this sanction has been completely undermined by allowing project authorities to get away with blatant violations of mandated conditions.
It is by now clear that the SSP is under construction without a thorough assessment of environmental impacts, and furthermore, is being allowed to progress while its conditional clearance has effectively lapsed. These aspects could perhaps have been made light of if the environmental impacts of the project were, prima facie, minimal. However, let us look at the possible environmental impacts of this project, to understand why critics consider the SSP to be a potential disaster.