Urban planners and environmental analysts have stressed the need for the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the revised draft NCR Regional Plan-2021 and other such broad scale plans and representation for Ministry of Environment and Forests on the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB).
The view was expressed at a seminar on Environmental Safeguards in the Regional Plan-2021 hosted by INTACH and PEACE at the INTACH office here.
The seminar had presentations from Asesh Maitra and Meenaksi Dhote from the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA); Manu Bhatnagar of INTACH; Manoj Misra from PEACE and environmental analyst Chetan Agarwal. Several retired planners, NGOs and citizen groups also attended the meeting. They included members of Centre for Science and Environment, Foundation for Ecological Security, Natural Heritage First and the Indian Institute for Public Administration.
The lack of environmental oversight in the regional planning process was identified as a key regulatory gap at the meeting. While individual projects require environmental clearance, there is currently no practice of review under the Environment Protection Act of Master Plans and the NCR Regional Plan — which make much more important decisions about areas to conserve and thus impact the environmental sustainability of the towns and the NCR, the participants argued. It was accordingly recommended that a SEA should be undertaken for the revised draft Regional Plan-2021 and the findings be fed into the planning process.
“The NCR Regional Plan acts as a model for Master Plans of all other regions across the country and therefore has immense significance. It is also an important instrument for balancing development and conservation and maintaining the carrying capacity of the NCR and protecting the environmentally sensitive areas which are strategic environmental assets on which rests the drinking water security of the region. The Ministry of Environment and Forests, therefore, must get representation on the NCRPB,” said Prof. Mitra, the former director of SPA.
It was also recommended that given the numerous small and large changes proposed, a list of the changes made in the current Regional Plan-2021, and the rationale for the same, should be prepared by the NCRPB so that citizens and other stakeholders can understand what changes have been proposed.
“Also there is no reference to the origin of changes made in the plan. It is not known as to who suggested the changes. Besides, there is no provision for public hearings for the objections made to the Regional Plan. All these anomalies should be rectified,” suggested Mr. Agarwal.
The participants asserted that many important environmental provisions and safeguards in the current Regional Plan 2021 were not implemented or achieved, including (i) promulgation of the Natural Conservation Zones with a 0.5 per cent restriction on construction, and (ii) land suitability analysis, etc.
The revised draft Regional Plan- 2021, which also highlighted the problem of unplanned growth, has significantly diluted key environmental safeguards for the environmentally sensitive areas such as the Aravallis and the Yamuna and other riverbeds instead of plugging the gaps in the implementation.
The meeting concluded that these and other safeguards should be retained in the Regional Plan 2021 and implemented with full backing of the NCRPB. If at all any revision is required, they should aim at updating the plan with the implications from new statutes, international commitments in the field of climate change, environmental policy, disaster management, biodiversity, etc.
It was felt that if these changes were approved, it would lead to a fait accompli situation with disastrous outcomes for the drinking water security of the National Capital Region towns and cities, as well as the biodiversity and air quality.