Understanding Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
Recently the Ministry of Environment and Forest granted environmental clearance to POSCO’s Steel plant, while rejected the proposal of Vedanta’s Bauxite mining projects. What was the procedure and why one was granted clearance while the other was not? What is their relation with the Environmental Impact Assessment?
To answer these questions, there is a need to analyze the entire process of Environmental clearance and the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification 2006.
Environmental Impact Assessment Notification (EIA) ,2006.
The EIA notification categorizes all kinds of developmental projects in various schedules. The project proponent/investor has to identify to which schedule his proposed project belongs to. All the projects coming under Schedule 1 require environmental clearance. Schedule 1 contains two Categories A and B, Category B is further classified as B1 and B2 by respective State Level Expert Appraisal Committee.
The EIA notification establishes four stages for obtaining Environmental Clearance.
- PUBLIC HEARING
- B1 Categories project require Environmental Impact Assessment while B2 category projects are exempted from EIA.
- Technically, this is the first step for A category projects, which requires Environmental clearance from Central govt. along with B 1 projects, while B 2 projects need clearance only from state governments.
- The proponent has to now conduct EIA and submit the report to State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) and State Forest Department (SFD) (If the project covers forest lands).
- The SPCB and SFD evaluates the report qualitatively and quantitatively to assess if it complies with the prescribed effluent and emission standards. If so, a NOC is granted.
- Public Hearing is exempted for projects like modernization of irrigation, expansion of roads and highways, all B2 category projects etc.
Jan 12, 2014
Understanding Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
Now we will try to analyze the process of EIA by raising four fundamental questions i.e. What, Who, Why and How.
WHAT is EIA?
- It is a study to evaluate and identify the predictable environmental consequences and the best combination of economic and environmental costs and benefits of the proposed project.
- On the basis of EIA, an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) is prepared, which is a description of the means by which the environmental consequences as pointed out in the EIA will be mitigated. Together the whole draft is termed as EIA-EMP report.
WHO does EIA?
- The project proponent or
- Independent agencies like NEERI, TERI, WAPCOS, E & Y, NCAER etc.
WHY is EIA conducted?
- To systematically examine both beneficial and adverse consequences of the proposal.
- To ensure that those consequences are taken into account during project design.
- To identify possible environmental effects of the proposal and means to mitigate them.
- To predict whether there will be significant adverse effects even after the mitigation.
- To lessen conflicts by promoting community participation and informing decision makers.
How is EIA done?
- IDENTIFICATION of the consequences of the proposal.
- PREDICTION of the extent of consequences.
- EVALUATION of the predicted consequences. (Significant or not)
- MITIGATION of the adverse consequences.
- DOCUMENTATION to inform decision makers what needs to be done.
Issues related to EIA
Though it seems a very simplified process, but the whole process of EIA encompasses numerous structural and procedural flaws. All the associated issues can be classified in two categories.
- Report Issues
- Public Hearing Issues.
- Screening and Scoping not well defined—-In the EIA notification 2006, there is a lack of clarity in overall conductance of the Screening process. As it is discretion of the State Level committee to decide which projects are B1 and which are B2, many a times the bias of respective State Governments come into play. The Scoping process faces same types of issues because of lack of clarity in guidelines.
- Misleading EIA reports—Sometimes the EIA reports lack the expected degrees of honesty, owing to bias, corruption, exaggeration and wrong claims. Due to poor knowledge of the project area the agencies lift paragraphs and sentences from other sources, thus presenting contradictory, inconsistent and outdated information. Moreover there is no process for punishing the agencies tabling such dishonest EIA reports.
- Insufficient EIA reports—-Agencies or project proponents also prepare incomplete EIA reports, which include incomplete surveys, arbitrary demarcation of EIA study area and unsubstantiated statements. Sometimes the impact with respect to flash floods, landslides, peak precipitation etc. round the year is grossly ignored in reports.
- Poor quality of EIA professionals— This happens mostly when the proponents themselves conduct the EIA. They intentionally hire local and incompetent professionals to save cost over the whole process or some other vested reasons. These poor professionals prepare a poor quality of EIA reports.
Public hearing issues
- Lack of awareness—-There is a gross lack of awareness among the local people, about the process of EIA, its significance for them, role of various players and their own rights and responsibilities. Moreover there is a communication gap between authorities and local people because the notice for Public hearing is issued in local newspapers only and no separate notices are sent to individual concerned panchayats. Most of the times local people are unaware of the Public hearing meetings.
- Unavailabilty of EIA in local languages— Most of the time EIA reports are unavailable in local languages, thus local people are unable to decipher the reports, and are misled by the proponents. This can be interpreted as a clear violation of the right to information on their part. The irony is local people are totally unaware of such implications.
- Ignorance of officials—The concerned officials for example those in Public Hearing committee are ignorant of their roles and responsibilities. Sometimes they don’t even get a copy of EIA report and it is passed without their consent, owing to gross corruption of the system.
- Over involvement of Public hearing consultants— In the public hearing meeting, the consultants should not be allowed to have a dominant say, except responding to the issues of the people. On the contrary, they get involved in public hearings beyond requirements and thus mislead the local people.
- Unaddressed issues persist—-The issues raised by people in public hearings remains unanswered and they do not know what happens to the issues, nor do they know if the issues raised are reflected in public hearing reports that is presented to Ministry of Environment and forests.