Sunday, November 28, 2010

Serious Governance Issue Raised by MoEF Clearance to Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant

The Ministry of Environment and Forests has today (28 nov 2010) accorded the environmental clearance to the 9900 MW Jaitapur Nuclear power plant in Ratnagiri district in coastal Maharashtra, against intense local and national opposition.

While declaring this decision, the Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh has stated “I tried to balance four objectives: the amount of energy required to sustain a growth rate of nine per cent; the proportion of fuel mix; strategic diplomacy, especially after the Civilian Nuclear Deal; and the environmental concerns raised by a large number of groups,” (The Hindu, 29 Nov 2010, )

I find the decision to accord the clearance complete wrong, but I do agree with the above principle articulated by the Minister, that there is a need to balance several objectives. (I would add a few more to them including equity, displacement etc.). The issue is whether the MoEF is the competent authority to do this balancing. It is a serious problem with our project planning, regulation and governance systems that we do not have appropriate procedures and agencies to ensure such a balancing. The sector ministries (power, water, atomic energy etc.) look to only push their own sector’s growth – which they equate with national interests. Since they are the ministries deciding on the “need” and “desirability” of projects, the conflict of interest in balancing with regards environment, social impacts, equity etc are clear.

Ramesh, in his press note dated 28 Nov 2010 has stated at one point that he is “not the competent authority to pass judgment on matter related to the need, economics and safety of nuclear power plants.” Yet, he goes on to give strategic, economic and energy related objectives as the main justifications for according the clearance. In the absence of a mechanism to do the “balancing”, the MoEF cannot appropriate this process, though to be fair, so far it has been appropriated by the line / sector ministries, with disastrous environmental, social and equity impacts, and some pathetic shows on the performance front too. Unfortunately, the MoEF has ended up according clearance to an environmentally destructive project, for the reasons that it acknowledges it has no competence, nor the mandate to examine.

There are many detailed and specific criticisms of the MoEF order, which will surely be brought out by others. I want to mention only one more point here, and that is: Even if one accepts the MoEF’s argument that India desperately needs more electricity, the mere requirement of electricity at the national level cannot automatically translate into a justification for specific power plant.

Moving on to some other issues emerging from this clearance order, one must, in spite of several disagreements on specific orders of the MoEF, put on record the appreciation for making public its logic and reasoning through detailed explanatory notes (even though the logic may be often flawed!). The Minister needs to be commended for this.

Secondly, the press note related to the Jaitapur clearance makes a statement “India must get used to the concept of carrying capacity and cumulative impact assessment studies.” This is really critical and is most welcome. We would expect and hope that the Ministry puts this in place as a pre-requisite to clearing individual projects. And not leave it to the states as a voluntary effort, as is indicated in the press note.

(Image: People Protesting against the Jaitapur Plant: Photo Courtesy Lokayat


  1. Yes, but it is not the role of the MEF to do such balancing acts. The role of the MEF is to work for the protection of Environment and Forests. The moment they start indulging in such balancing act, by definition, they make compromises with their role.

    The issue of faulty EIA of the project is also important. The Ministry has given Clearance for the first two reactors with 35 conditions, but the ministry does not have the capacity to monitor its own conditions.

  2. Great peice. It is ironical that when all other ministries and authorities like Central Electricity Authority pass and reserve the 'environment' parcel only for the MoEF, the MoEF thinks that it has to perform everybody elses role.