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Government eases environmental clearance rules for solar power projects, parks

According to reports, in move that would bring relief to solar power developers, the Union environment ministry has said that provisions of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2006, which mandate environmental clearance for various projects, will not apply to solar PV (photovoltaic) power projects, solar thermal power projects and solar parks.

The ministry has, however, clarified that the disposal of PV cells will be covered under the provisions of Hazardous and Other Waste (Management and Trans-Boundary Movement) Rules, 2016. It also said that the development of solar parks will be covered under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.

The ministry’s clarification came in an office order after it received several references seeking information on the applicability of the EIA notification 2006 to solar PV power projects, solar thermal power projects and solar parks.

The environment ministry noted that these solar projects would have to follow basic environmental safeguards. For example, they would have to ensure that the project area does not involve any agricultural land, wetlands and bio-diversity rich areas with a large habitation and ecologically sensitive areas.

It further said that if the project involves any displacement of habitation, a proper resettlement and rehabilitation plan should be in place. It said if the project area involves forest land, then forest clearance is needed and a site should conform to coastal regulation norms if it falls in such an area.

The ministry said the project proponent will need to take prior permission for the usage of water at the project site.

It also stipulated that the land made available for solar projects would not be diverted to any other purpose and no change of land use whatsoever would be permitted without proper clearances.

India has an ambitious target of producing 100,000 mega-watt (MW) of solar power by 2022 and as on 30 June, the total installed renewable power capacity across India was 58,303.35MW. Of this, 13,114.85MW is solar power.

The clarification from the ministry would comfort project developers as the environment clearance process is generally considered to be a time-consuming one.

Experts are, however cautious about government’s push towards solar parks.

“Easing norms for solar projects like solar parks should be welcomed cautiously. One has to remember that lot of power is wasted in energy transmission. Need of the hour is to focus on solar rooftop which is a neglected area,” said Rakesh Kamal, a consultant with The Climate Reality Project, an independent organisation working on climate change related issues.

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