One Layer Less To Get Building Approvals

Will easing environmental norms reduce construction period?

Labourers work at a real estate construction site in Mumbai (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)
Labourers work at a real estate construction site in Mumbai (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

The government has removed one layer of bureaucratic involvement for property developers by easing environmental approvals in a move that may fast-track real estate projects.

All projects with a built-up area of up to 1.5 lakh square metres will be cleared by civic authorities instead of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, according to a central government notification in June. Municipal corporations will have to set up committees to ensure developers adhere to the environmental norms. The central government's directive was notified by Maharashtra on July 11.

It will reduce one bureaucratic level and improve the turnaround time, said Rajan Bandelkar, vice president, Maharashtra, National Real Estate Development Council. Earlier, environmental permissions used to take up to two years, he said.

India ranks 130 in World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, and fares even worse at 185 on ‘dealing with construction permits’. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government aims to improve the rankings by reducing and fast-tracking approvals.

Developers Expect Faster Approval

It is a long-awaited move as customers were facing the brunt, said Kaizad Hateria, brand custodian and chief customer delight officer, at Rustomjee Group, a Mumbai-based developer.

Developers are still expected to comply with energy efficient technology, waste segregation, rainwater harvesting and tree plantation norms. Yet, they expect time for approvals to come down.

“This (the decision) will lower the cost of carrying material which can eventually bring down the prices,” Rohit Poddar, managing director, Mumbai-based Poddar Developers, said. These costs include inventory, rent, utilities, and labour.

Nobody is diluting environmental norms and the idea is to create more housing stock that will boost construction of affordable homes, said Poddar.

Projects with flats of built-up area of up to 30 square metres in four metros and 60 square metres in other cities are eligible under affordable housing benefits like subsidised loan rates.

Faster environmental approvals will help affordable housing as a shorter construction period will bring down costs, said Aniket Havare, director, Haware Engineers and Builders.

Environmentalists Raise Concerns

Environmentalists are worried.

“There is a risk of norms getting diluted. The way our bureaucracy functions, there is redtapism because of which the approvals could be given without proper review,” said Pramod Dabrase, environmental scientist and policy maker at Centre for Sustainable Environment and Development Initiatives. The challenge is to test the capacity of local corporations and their preparedness to carry this out, he said.

Stalin Dayanand of Mumbai-based non-government organisation Vanashakti Group far more blunt. Whatever remains of the environment and its biodiversity could get destroyed, he said. He fears nepotism and cronyism at the local committees that will eventually clear projects.