GS Paper 3
Syllabus: Environment: Environmental impact assessment
Source: Economic Times
Context: The National Green Tribunal has extended the stay on the Ministry of Environment notification modifying the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) conditions for certain construction projects.
Previously, in the 2018 notification, the ministry had given the powers to local bodies instead of State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities (SEIAAs) to do EIA of:
- Construction projects (built-up areas between 20,000 sqm to 50,000 sqm)
- Industrial sheds, educational institutions, hospitals and hostels for educational institutions (built-up areas between 20,000 sqm and 1,50,000 sqm)
- NGT has now given the decision that such changes will result in diluting the mechanism of EIA by SEIAA and thus cannot be sustained.
- Make all the stakeholders aware of the environmental and socio-economic impact of the project
- Facilitates a basis for policy decisions: EIA provides the impact assessment well before the project is implemented.
- Helps to eliminate or minimize the adverse impact of developmental projects
- EIA encourages the adaptation of mitigation strategies in the developmental plan
- Protects the biodiversity of the environment by suggesting alternative safe project designs and methods.
- Simplifies the technical issues: EIA produces an environmental management plan and summary for the non-tech general public.
EIA is backed by the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. EIA notification of 2006 made it mandatory to take EIA for various projects such as mining, thermal power plants, river valley, infrastructure and industries. EIA was drastically changed in the ministry’s 2020 notification.
EIA notification 2020 and its impact:
- Public Consultation: Reduced to max 40 days and only 20 days (from 30 days) for submitting a response
- This will help speed up the process of EIA. However, it may give very little time for Tribal and forest dwellers who are not aware of technical details or have the means to access them.
- More Discretionary power for Government: Power to declare ‘economically sensitive areas’ without a public hearing as well as give any project a ‘strategic tag’ (so no EIA obligation)
- This is important for the clearance of strategic projects related to defence and national security as well as projects deemed too important for the nation.
- However, there is fear of misuse of this clause for political or economic reasons to circumvent EIA
- Post-Facto-project clearance:
- This will enable ease of doing business and reduce bureaucratic delays. But it is a violation of the fundamental principles of environmental jurisprudence and is contrary to both the precautionary principle as well as the need for sustainable development.
- An extended period of Environmental clearance: From 30 years to 50 years
- However, it raises the risk of irreversible environmental, health, and social consequence.
- Common assessment for all the seasons by replacing seasonal assessment: No need to cover all the seasons in a year.
- This may make EIA less reliable and not reveal the full impact of EIA
- Report Issues: reduced from once every six months to once every year.
- This will dilute the scrutiny and it may be late before any mitigation measures could be taken for highlighted project impact.
EIA needs to provide the balance between ‘ease of doing business and maintaining environmental sustainability. In this context, an Independent EIA Authority can be set up for fair and objective decisions. Also, a centralized data bank for storing information and providing access to local communities and the general public to all the aspects of projects.
Q. Environmental Impact Assessment studies are increasingly undertaken before a project is cleared by the Government. Discuss the environmental impacts of coal-fired thermal plants located at coal pitheads. ( UPSC 2014)