NEC: The environment clearance process has to be shortened to allow quicker implementation of development activities and setting up of industries, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said.

After the mid-term review presentation of its performance agreement by the National Environment Commission (NEC) yesterday, Lyonchoen, who is also the chairperson of the commission, said one of the common complaints in starting a development activity or establishing industries in the country at present was the lengthy process involved in obtaining the environment clearance from the commission.

“Both private and government agencies when asked about work progress keep saying that everything is ready but it is difficult to obtain the environment clearance,” he said.

NEC secretary Ugyen Tshewang said the secretariat was doing the best possible with the available resources.

For projects that do not require environment impact assessment, the secretariat set the time limit to less than 80 days. “We received 186 applications between July and December last year of which environment clearance for 37 were issued in less than a month,” Ugyen Tshewang said.

“The remaining projects are awaiting submission of additional information.”

Those projects needing minor environment clearance, the time limit was set to 150 days and of the eight applications, seven are being assessed while one was rejected.

The secretariat has set a time limit of 270 days for issuing major environment clearance, however they are yet to receive any application since July last year.

Ugyen Tshewang said the secretariat found that with the country having only two technical assistants as consultants, most of the information they receive is “cut and paste” and “not up to the required mark”.

The NEC Secretary said that the environment clearance issue is worsened by the lack of human capacity and resources at the secretariat.

“At the moment we’re undergoing organisational development exercise,” he said.

He added that the Environment Assessment Act 2000 is also being revised and the commission is reviewing the draft Environment Assessment Act 2014 after presenting it to the Committees of Secretaries and the Cabinet.

There are major changes proposed on the provisions of environment clearance

“The Act was enacted in 2000, since then many changes have occurred including development activities, so we’re trying to fine tune and adjust the Act through the review,” Ugyen Tshewang said.

The solution of expediting the environment clearance process is the review of the Act and delegation of the activities to the competent authorities.

“We hope that with the deployment of additional human resource to the secretariat we should be able to fast tract the issuance of environment clearance,” he said.

The secretariat’s aging and unsafe pool vehicles also impeded the monitoring and evaluation of projects.

The Prime Minister instructed the finance and economic affairs ministries to sit with Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry and explore ways how the private sector would come up with a vehicle hiring service.

Lyonchoen said if there are no initiatives from the private sector, ultimately the government might have to establish a fixed-term corporation to begin with and privatise the firm after completing its term.

The vehicle hiring system has worked in the tourism sector and it is flourishing.

Lyonchoen asked if NEC could encourage consultants to go through the applications to see if they meet the requirements, otherwise the process could stretch for years as the proponents think they have submitted their applications and the NEC waits for complete information.

“One way to solve the problem is to create consultants that are needed,” he said.

Tshering Palden