Introduction: The term “Single Window System” was originally used as a trade facilitation concept. It enables international (cross-border) traders to submit regulatory documents at a single location. It is also a system in banking dealings like withdrawal of cash from a savings account, current account, purchase of drafts or pay orders, making fixed deposits, etc. in a simplified way.
The Single Window System is a Centralized system to monitor applications of necessary clearances for various projects with minimum paperwork. It constitutes a Single window for interaction between investors and Government departments, Simplified application process for investors to make it user-friendly, cutting the time for processing the application, System to check the status of applications by State authorities and investors, Handholding support to the investor fraternity across all districts in the State. It is also used for Review, process and facilitating project clearances including modernization, up-gradation and expansion of existing industrial units.
Even though the Single Window Clearance System (SWCS) was primarily established for development of industries, it literally implies to all the big developmental projects which involve mandatory forest & Environmental Clearances such as dams & hydropower projects, mining of minerals, construction of infrastructure like Highway roads, Railways etc. Odisha was the first state in India which established the SWCS through legislation as a mechanism in pursuance of the Orissa industries (Facilitation) Act, 2004 for providing time-bound clearances and approval. An Online Combined Application Form (CAF) has been created which all department authorities are mandated to accept for various clearances and approvals. It was followed by Uttarakhand Enterprises Single Window Facilitation and Clearance Act 2012’ (Uttarakhand Act. No. 05 of 2013) to provide necessary time-bound licenses, permissions and sanctions for the establishment of industry and subsequent introduction in the state of Jharkhand.
Major implications of the SWCS: The introduction of the Single Window Clearance System has potential adverse impacts on different aspects being the system was established with an aimed to maintain a single channel, arbitrary and centralized system in the clearance process of any developmental works. It was solely created in the interest of the builders/developers. It embarked on a mission to leverage technologies only to complement the governance framework. The state is the pioneer in implementing the Ease of Doing Business framework through a robust single window clearance mechanism. This system enables the investors to approach a single designated authority and seek all clearances and approvals to set up and operationalize industries. Some possible negative impacts of the SWCS can be envisaged in the following aspects:
Firstly, the SWCS undermines the customary law of indigenous communities regarding land and forest ownership. The system omits the room for recognizing the inherent traditional rights of the communities over their land, forest, rivers and resources. This assassinates the international principle of Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) of the concerned people.
Secondly, the new system creates a free environment for the companies, corporate and the builders whereas; the spirit of inclusive approaches of people’s participation in the developmental process which has been a chronic in the history of developmental interventions in India is totally ignored. It is nothing but opening a free hand to the profit mongering companies for easier, faster and more effective plundering of resources both surface and beneath in the name of development. The approvals and clearances for the establishment and operations of industries shall be only through an on-line portal with minimum human interface which is arbitrary and single linear model repeating the unfair developmental processes that continuously suppressed the interest, aspiration and wills of the public.
Thirdly, it also defeats the significance of establishment of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. Execution or enforcement of Forest & Environmental laws and mandatory procedures under Forest Conservation Act, 1980, Forest Protection Act, 1986 and Forest Rights Act, 2006 are all undermined according to this simplified one-way system.
Fourthly, the introduction of the new system virtually implies repetition of the historic injustice done to the forest dwellers in the long history of India, being all rules and procedures of Forest Clearance under the Forest Right (Recognition of ST and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Right) Act – FRA, 2006 are superseded.
Fifthly, the single window on-line portal and paper work system under the SWCS implies absence of serious environment impacts assessment based on the real ground. Engaging in table works in an on-line model also unfolds its nature of lack of quality based forest & environment and other mandatory clearances.
In conclusion, it will be worth maintaining that this new system can be leveled as a mechanism which holds the power to defeat the letter & spirit of the FRA, 2006 deleting the customary rights of the indigenous communities over their land, forest and resources, undermining the mandatory rules and procedures under the FCA, 1980 & FPA, 1986, devaluation of significance of the establishment of National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, curtailing the inclusive and participatory approach of developmental process whereas, a free hand to the builders/ companies/corporates to plunder natural conditions of land, water and other resources that bears a clear revelation of a much bigger dimensional threats to the rights of the indigenous people inter-alia environment and ecology.
Lastly, it is remarkable that even though the Single Window Clearance – Online Portal System was basically established with an objective of effective and rapid implementation of Industrial projects, the same has virtual implications on other big developmental projects which inevitably involve mandatory forest & environmental and other clearances. While several instances of discrepancies and contraventions of existing forest and environment laws and indigenous communities’ rights are rampant in the country, the introduction of this new system happens to be yet another technique of more devastation and violations without serious concern.
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)