An independent regulator would be established soon to completely change the process of granting environmental clearances to industrial projects, without bringing back 'the hated licence permit raj', Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Sunday.
He was addressing a valedictory session of the international seminar on global environment and disaster management, organised jointly by the Supreme Court, Delhi High Court, Indian Law Institute, Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Ministry of Law and Justice.
"A major challenge ahead is to put in place a legal and regulatory framework which is effective in protecting the environment but without bringing back the hated licence permit raj of the pre-1991 period," Singh said on Sunday, precisely 20 years after economic reforms were initiated in the country.
Singh was the finance minister and Narasimha Rao the prime minister when mega reforms were announced in 1991.
The independent regulator -- the National Environment Appraisal and Monitoring Authority -- would be staffed by dedicated professionals, and it would work to evolve a better and more objective standards of scrutiny, the PM said.
Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh was in the news till recent for stalling industrial projects across the country.
Ramesh, who was shifted to the rural development ministry earlier this month, had denied environment clearance to several big-ticket projects.
Recalling the initial period of economic reforms, the PM said, "the 90s witnessed remarkable changes in India. Rapid growth and industrialisation were underway as a result of the newly liberalised economy."
Acknowledging the 'enduring wisdom of the judiciary' for India's 'environmental jurisprudence', the PM said the judiciary enforced laws passed by a farsighted legislature to ensure that the concerns of depleting natural resources were neither diluted nor dismissed at the cost of doing business.
On the trade-off between economic growth and environmental sustainability, the PM said, 'people are reviewing their notions of what constitutes growth'.
There was now a general agreement that environment cannot be protected by perpetuating the poverty of developing countries, he added.
According to the PM, while it is no longer possible to treat the environment with passive disregard, it is not tenable to pretend that these are concerns only for the other or wealthier nations.
Supreme Court Chief Justice S H Kapadia, who also attended the function, sought a wider role for the regulatory regime vis-à-vis environment clearance to projects.
"The Ministry of Environment & Forests alone cannot handle the process," he said.
But by her body language, it seemed that Justice Kapadia's suggestion did not go quite well with the new Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarjan, who was a part of the panel at on Sunday's valedictory session.
The regulatory mechanism should not just be for appraisal of projects, but for pricing as well, Justice Kapadia pointed out, referring especially to mining.
"Pricing is a big problem in mining," he said, adding that in the absence of any regulation and supervision, illegal mining is thriving in many states. Recommending arm's length pricing in domestic business, he stressed that there should be a regulator both for appraisal and pricing for mining projects.