Environmental Impact Assessment and EIA Draft analysis
Gs-Paper-3 EIA Environment (PT-MAINS)
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.
UNEP defines Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a tool used to identify the environmental, social and economic impacts of a project prior to decision-making. It aims to predict environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to suit the local environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers.
Environment Impact Assessment in India is statutorily backed by the Environment Protection Act, 1986 which contains various provisions on EIA methodology and process.
History of EIA in India
The Indian experience with Environmental Impact Assessment began over 20 years back. It started in 1976-77 when the Planning Commission asked the Department of Science and Technology to examine the river-valley projects from an environmental angle.
Till 1994, environmental clearance from the Central Government was an administrative decision and lacked legislative support.
On 27 January 1994, the then Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, under the Environmental (Protection) Act 1986, promulgated an EIA notification making Environmental Clearance (EC) mandatory for expansion or modernisation of any activity or for setting up new projects listed in Schedule 1 of the notification.
The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) notified new EIA legislation in September 2006. The notification makes it mandatory for various projects such as mining, thermal power plants, river valley, infrastructure (road, highway, ports, harbours and airports) and industries including very small electroplating or foundry units to get environment clearance. However, unlike the EIA Notification of 1994, the new legislation has put the onus of clearing projects on the state government depending on the size/capacity of the project.
The EIA Process
EIA involves the steps mentioned below. However, the EIA process is cyclical with interaction between the various steps.
Screening: The project plan is screened for scale of investment, location and type of development and if the project needs statutory clearance.
Scoping: The project’s potential impacts, zone of impacts, mitigation possibilities and need for monitoring.
Collection of baseline data: Baseline data is the environmental status of study area.
Impact prediction: Positive and negative, reversible and irreversible and temporary and permanent impacts need to be predicted which presupposes a good understanding of the project by the assessment agency.
Mitigation measures and EIA report: The EIA report should include the actions and steps for preventing, minimizing or by passing the impacts or else the level of compensation for probable environmental damage or loss.
Public hearing: On completion of the EIA report, public and environmental groups living close to project site may be informed and consulted.
Decision making: Impact Assessment Authority along with the experts consult the project-in-charge along with consultant to take the final decision, keeping in mind EIA and EMP (Environment Management Plan).
Monitoring and implementation of environmental management plan: The various phases of implementation of the project are monitored.
Assessment of Alternatives, Delineation of Mitigation Measures and Environmental Impact Assessment Report: For every project, possible alternatives should be identified, and environmental attributes compared. Alternatives should cover both project location and process technologies. Once alternatives have been reviewed, a mitigation plan should be drawn up for the selected option and is supplemented with an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) to guide the proponent towards environmental improvements.
Risk assessment: Inventory analysis and hazard probability and index also form part of EIA procedures.
****In the Samarth Trust Case, the Delhi high court had considered EIAs- a part of participatory justice in which the voice is given to the voiceless and it is like a Jan Sunwai, where the community is the jury.****
Salient Features of 2006 Amendments to EIA Notification
Environment Impact Assessment Notification of 2006 has decentralized the environmental clearance projects by categorizing the developmental projects in two categories, i.e., Category A (national level appraisal) and Category B (state level appraisal).
Category A projects are appraised at national level by Impact Assessment Agency (IAA) and the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) and Category B projects are apprised at state level.
State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) and State Level Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) are constituted to provide clearance to Category B process.
After 2006 Amendment the EIA cycle comprises of four stages:
Category A projects require mandatory environmental clearance and thus they do not undergo the screening process.
Category B projects undergoes screening process and they are classified into two types.
Category B1 projects (Mandatorily requires EIA).
Category B2 projects (Do not require EIA).
Thus, Category A projects and Category B, projects undergo the complete EIA process whereas Category B2 projects are excluded from complete EIA process.
Importance of EIA
EIA links environment with development for environmentally safe and sustainable development.
EIA provides a cost effective method to eliminate or minimize the adverse impact of developmental projects.
EIA enables the decision makers to analyse the effect of developmental activities on the environment well before the developmental project is implemented.
EIA encourages the adaptation of mitigation strategies in the developmental plan.
EIA makes sure that the developmental plan is environmentally sound and within the limits of the capacity of assimilation and regeneration of the ecosystem.
Shortcomings of EIA Process
Applicability: There are several projects with significant environmental impacts that are exempted from the notification either because they are not listed in schedule I, or their investments are less than what is provided for in the notification.
Composition of expert committees and standards: It has been found that the team formed for conducting EIA studies is lacking the expertise in various fields such as environmentalists, wildlife experts, Anthropologists and Social Scientists.
Public comments are not considered at an early stage, which often leads to conflict at a later stage of project clearance.
A number of projects with significant environmental and social impacts have been excluded from the mandatory public hearing process.
The data collectors do not pay respect to the indigenous knowledge of local people.
Quality of EIA: One of the biggest concerns with the environmental clearance process is related to the quality of EIA report that are being carried out.
Lack of Credibility: There are so many cases of fraudulent EIA studies where erroneous data has been used, same facts used for two totally different places etc.
Often, and more so for strategic industries such as nuclear energy projects, the EMPs are kept confidential for political and administrative reasons.
Details regarding the effectiveness and implementation of mitigation measures are often not provided.
Emergency preparedness plans are not discussed in sufficient details and the information not disseminated to the communities.
Recently, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has proposed a draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020, that seeks to replace the current notification which goes back to 2006.
EIA is an important process for evaluating the likely environmental impact of a proposed project. It is a process whereby people’s views are taken into consideration for granting final approval to any developmental project or activity. It is basically, a decision-making tool to decide whether the project should be approved or not.
The draft notification is issued under the powers vested in the central government under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to take all such measures for “protecting and improving the quality of the environment.
According to the government, the new notification is being brought in order to make the process more transparent and expedient by the implementation of an online system, further delegation, rationalisation and standardisation of the process. However, the environmentalist said that the draft will further dilute the EIA process.
Issues pertaining to draft EIA Notification 2020
The new draft allows for post-facto approval for projects. It means that the clearances for projects can be awarded even if they have started construction or have been running phase without securing environmental clearances.
This also means that any environmental damage caused by the project is likely to be waived off as the violations get legitimised. As the only remedy would be to impose a fine or punishment; but that would not reverse the detrimental consequences on the environment.
Post facto approval is the derogation of the fundamental principles of environmental jurisprudence and violation of the “precautionary principle,” which is a principle of environmental sustainability.
In 2017, post-facto clearance given to projects in Tamil Nadu was struck down by the Madras high court.
Public Consultation Process
The draft notification provides for a reduction of the time period from 30 days to 20 days for the public to submit their responses during a public hearing for any application seeking environmental clearance.
The danger is that if adequate time is not given for the preparation of views, comments and suggestions to those who would be affected by the project, then such public hearings would not be meaningful.
Unless a public hearing is meaningful, the whole EIA process would lack transparency and credibility.
Further, the reduction of time would particularly pose a problem in those areas where information is not easily accessible or areas in which people are not that well aware of the process itself.
Compliance Report Issue
The 2006 notification required that the project proponent submit a report every six months, showing that they are carrying out their activities as per the terms on which permission has been given.
However, the new draft requires the promoter to submit a report only once every year.
During this period, certain irreversible environmental, social or health consequences of the project could go unnoticed because of the extended reporting time.
For example, if a mining project is being carried out at someplace which can be potentially hazardous to the nearby population and can contaminate the air, and water nearby, a half-yearly compliance report would better help in addressing these concerns.
Bypassing EIA Process
Through the draft notification, the central government gets the power to categorise projects as “strategic.”
Once a project is considered as strategic, the draft notification states that no information related to such projects shall be placed in the public domain.
Violations can only be reported suo motu by the project proponent, or by a government authority, appraisal committee, or regulatory authority. This is against the principles of natural justice.
Further, the draft notification states that the new construction projects up to 1,50,000 square metres (instead of the existing 20,000 square metres) do not need “detailed scrutiny” by the Expert Committee, nor do they need EIA studies and public consultation.
On a positive note, the 2020 draft notification has a clause dedicated to definitions to several terms related to EIA. It may be beneficial in the sense that it consolidates the EIA rules and has the potential of alleviating some ambiguity in the present law.
However, it needs to address the above issues. In this context:
The ministry, instead of reducing the time for public consultation, should focus on ensuring access to information as well as awareness about the public hearing and its impact upon the whole EIA process.
In order to improve ease of doing business, the government should bring down the average delay of 238 days in granting environmental clearance, that emanates from bureaucratic delays and complex laws.
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