Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a tool used to identify the environmental, social and economic impacts of a project prior to decision-making.
- 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.
- Environment Impact Assessment in India is statutorily backed by the Environment Protection Act, 1986 which contains various provisions on EIA methodology and process.
- Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is an important management tool for ensuring optimal use of natural resources for sustainable development.
- It covers developmental sectors such as industries, thermal power projects, mining schemes etc.
Aim of EIA
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.
EIA systematically examines both beneficial and adverse consequences of the project and ensures that these effects are taken into account during project design.
It helps to identify possible environmental effects of the proposed project, proposes measures to mitigate adverse effects and predicts whether there will be significant adverse environmental effects, even after the mitigation is implemented.
By considering the environmental effects of the project and their mitigation early in the project planning cycle, environmental assessment has many benefits, such as protection of environment, optimum utilisation of resources and saving of time and cost of the project.
Properly conducted EIA also lessens conflicts by promoting community participation, informing decision makers, and helping lay the base for environmentally sound projects. Benefits of integrating EIA have been observed in all stages of a project, from exploration and planning, through construction, operations, decommissioning, and beyond site closure.
- The EIA process finds its origin from United States where due to huge public pressure; the government enacted National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1970s.
- The role of EIA process was formally recognized at the Earth Summit in Rio Conference in 1992.
- The Rio declaration stated that EIA shall be taken as national instrument for proposed projects which might adversely impact the environment.
- 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. This was subsequently extended to cover those projects, which required the approval of the Public Student Notes: Investment Board.
- Till 1994, environmental clearance from the Central Government was an administrative decision and lacked legislative support.
- On 27 January 1994, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF), Government of India, 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. Since then there have been 12 amendments made in the EIA notification of 1994.
Applicability in India
EIA was first introduced in 1978 with regard to the various river valley projects all over the country and later expanded to include various other developmental procedures in its scope. EIA is now mandatory for over 30 classes of projects.
The Environmental Protection Rules, 1986 warrant for the imposition of certain restrictions on the construction/ expansion/ modernization of specific projects without prior approval from the Central, State, or Union Territory level Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (EIAA) constituted under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
Categorisation of projects
- The rules categorize the projects into two categories- A and B on the basis of the magnitude of their scale and impact on the natural and artificial resources. The projects belonging to Category A require approval from the Ministry of Environment and Forests on behalf of the Central Government, on the advice of an Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), constituted by the Central Government for this specific purpose; eg. Construction or Expansion of Ports, harbours, airports, nuclear power, and related projects, Primary metallurgical industries (iron, steel, copper, etc), individual projects, etc.
- Projects and Activities falling under Category B require the approval of a State EIAA, based on the advice of a State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC), constituted under the said notification.
EIA Notification, 2006
Objectives: The objectives of EIA Notification, 2006 inter alia include:
- To formulate a transparent, decentralized and efficient regulatory mechanism to integrate environmental concerns into the developmental process with a view to facilitating sustainable development.
- To ensure incorporation of necessary environmental safeguards at planning stage in the project cycle, so as to ensure minimal impact on different components of the environment.
- To ensure involvement of stakeholders in the public consultation process through public hearing and to ascertain the views of the public on the proposed project or activity.
Salient Features: The salient features of EIA Notification, 2006 inter alia include:
- The EIA Notification, 2006 has categorized the projects into two categories namely; Category ‘A’ and Category ‘B’ based on their impact potential͘
- 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.
- The stage of scoping for prescribing terms of reference by the Regulatory Agency for the EIA studies has been incorporated in accordance with the International practice. It is expected to improve the quality of EIA thereby improving the quality of decision making and minimizing the delays.
- The public consultation process has been made more structured. It has two components i.e. comments through correspondence and by public hearing at site. Provision to videograph the proceedings of the public hearing has been made.
- NOCs ( No-Objection Certificates) from other regulatory agencies such as SPCB etc. are not a prerequisite for considering application for environmental clearance.
Stages of Environmental Clearance: The environmental clearance process comprises of four stages, namely, Stage
- Screening Stage: Screening refers scrutiny of category ‘B’ projects seeking prior environmental clearance made in Form-1 by the concerned State Level Expert Appraisal Committee for determining whether or not the project requires further environmental studies for preparation of EIA for its appraisal depending upon the nature and location specificity of the project.
- Scoping Stage: What effects could this project have on the environment? Which of these effects are likely to be significant and therefore need particular attention in the environmental studies? Which alternatives and mitigation measures ought to be considered in developing the proposal for the project
- Public Consultation stage: To ascertain views of local persons. Outcome of public consultation, which is not a decision making process, to be included in EIA and addressed.
- Appraisal stage: Appraisal means the detailed scrutiny by the Expert Appraisal Committee or State Level Expert Appraisal Committee of the application and other documents submitted by the applicant for grant of environmental clearance.
Stakeholders in the EIA Process
- Those who propose the project
- The environmental consultant who prepare EIA on behalf of project proponent
- Pollution Control Board (State or National)
- Public has the right to express their opinion
- The Impact Assessment Agency
- Regional centre of the MoEFCC
2006 Amendment to the EIA Notification
- Decentralisation of Project Clearances: It classified the developmental projects in two categories:
- Category A (national level appraisal): projects are appraised by Impact Assessment Agency (IAA) and the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC)
- Category B (state level appraisal): State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) and State Level Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) provide clearance to the Category B projects.
- Introduction of Different Stages: The Amendment introduced four stages into EIA Cycle; Screening, Scoping, Public hearing and Appraisal.
- Category A projects require mandatory environmental clearance and thus they do not have to undergo the screening process.
- Category B projects undergo a screening process and are further classified into B1 (Mandatorily requiring EIA) and B2 (Not requiring EIA).
- Projects with Mandatory Clearance: 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 are mandated to get environment clearance.
Advantages of EIA
By using EIA both environmental and economic benefits can be achieved, such as:
- Reduced cost and time of project implementation and design,
- Avoided treatment/clean-up costs and impacts of laws and regulations.
- Lays base for environmentally sound projects;
- Greater awareness of environmental legislation;
- Protection of Environment
- Optimum utilization of resources(balance between development and Environmental protection)
- Informs decision makers
- EIA reports are a critical component of India’s environmental decision-making process
- . It acts as a detailed study of the potential impacts of proposed projects.
- It helps in predicting environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design.
- Based on these reports, the Environment Ministry or other relevant regulatory bodies may or may not grant approval to a project.
- The EIA reports are also important to define measures that the project could take in order to contain or offset project impacts.
- EIA-based approvals for most projects also involve the process of conducting public hearings, so that who are likely to be affected can be taken on board before approving the project.
- EIA links environment with development.
- The goal is to ensure environmentally safe and sustainable development.
Limitations of EIA
- Little public participation in actual implementation
- Sometimes too focused on the scientific analysis
- Compliance monitoring after EIA is seldom carried out
- Impact assessment processes are in place and applied in many countries, yet biodiversity is often inadequately addressed.
- There is a growing recognition of the need to better reflect biodiversity considerations in environmental impact assessments and strategic environmental assessments.
Draft EIA Notification 2020
- The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has published the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020, with the intention of replacing the existing EIA Notification, 2006 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
- The Key Proposals of the 2020 Draft include:
- Reduced Time for Public Hearings: One of the major steps of the EIA Mechanism is the public participation. The 2020 draft proposes to reduce the notice period for public hearings from 30 days to 20 days.
- However, the MoEFCC has claimed it to be “in tune with the times”, given the growth of internet and mobile telephony.
- Exemption of Projects: Furthermore, by classifying a number of projects into A, B1 and B2, a host of projects are exempted from public scrutiny.
- Category B2 projects do not require mandatory Environment Clearance (EC), unlike the Category A and B1 projects.
- Exempted Projects: The projects under this exempted category include:Offshore and onshore oil, gas and shale exploration.
- Hydroelectric projects up to 25 MW.
- Irrigation projects between 2,000 and 10,000 hectares of command area.
- Small and medium cement plants.
- Acids other than phosphoric or ammonia, sulphuric acid.
- MSMEs in dye and dye intermediates, bulk drugs, synthetic rubbers, medium-sized paint units.
- All inland waterway projects and expansion or widening of highways between 25 km and 100 km with defined parameters.
- These include roads that cut through forests and dredging of major rivers.
- Aerial ropeways in ecologically sensitive areas.
- Specified building construction and area development projects; built-up area up to 1,50,000 sq. m.
- Post-clearance compliance: It implies that once a project gets approved by the concerned authority, the proponent projects are required to adhere to certain rules laid down in the EIA report in order to ensure that no further environmental damages take place.
- Annual Submission of Reports: The new draft EIA, proposes the submission of compliance reports annually whereas as per the 2006 notification, the compliance report was to be submitted every six months.Environmental experts are of the view that allowing a longer period for filling the compliance report will give an opportunity to project proponents to hide disastrous consequences, which could go unnoticed.
- Report Prepared Solely by Project Proponents: Meanwhile, submission of the compliance report will be solely prepared by the project proponents itself, which, without oversight and review, may lead to inaccurate information submitted on the project.
- No Public Reporting for Non-Compliance: The EIA Notification 2020 excludes reporting of violations and non-compliance by the public. Instead, the government will take cognisance of reports only from the violator-promoter, government authority, Appraisal Committee or Regulatory Authority.
- Post-facto Clearance: Another major proposal in the draft 2020 is granting ‘post-facto clearance’ where a project that has been operating without environmental clearance, can be regularised or allowed to apply for clearance.
- The judiciary has held, as in the case of Alembic Pharmaceutical vs. Rohit Prajapati in April 2020 that “environment law cannot countenance the notion of an ex post facto clearance.”
- Penalty for Firms: Firms found violating the terms of their establishment, if they have to get the clearance, however, will have to pay a penalty.
- Independent EIA Authority:
- Civil society groups have suggested the need for an independent Environmental Impact Assessment authority headed by a judicial officer and composed of representatives from communities, peoples groups, scientists, sociologists and environmentalists. Such a body would be independent of the ministry of environment and forests. The decision of this authority would be binding on the MOEF.
- Sector wide EIA is needed:
- There is a need to conduct policy-level and sector-wide EIAs in the form of strategic impact assessments ( for various sectors including mining , power and so on). This is critical to judge the impacts of macro- economic, developmental and other policies, schemes and programmes.
- Conduct options Assessment:
- EIA s should follow only after an options assessment and a least cost plan for a project is done by the state or central government.
- Creation of an information desk:
- An information dissemination desk may be assigned within the MOEF which anyone can write to regarding the status of clearance of projects. This desk should be mandated to respond within a maximum of ten days by post/ courier and a maximum of two days by email, to the contact information that has been furnished by the person seeking the information.
- Since all meetings and discussions are documented as electronic data, the officers should furnish this information regarding the status of clearance, with a record of the discussions in the Expert committee on the projects.
- Environmental Risk Assessment:
- New approaches such as Environmental Risk Assessment which enable more flexible and dynamic assessments of direct and indirect impacts must be explored.
- As part of this process, recognized Safety and Environmental Auditors must compulsorily meet local populations and submit a detailed report of potential risks due to the project.
- Quality of EIA Reports:
- The checklist needs to include impacts on agricultural biodiversity, biodiversity related traditional knowledge and livelihoods .Further, cumulative impacts of projects that are technically linked or located in the same ecological region, and impacts of the eventual closure of the project or components of the project should also be incorporated into the checklist.
- Finally the list should contain details on a full exploration of alternatives , especially decentralized alternatives, to mega projects .The checklist also needs to cover various kinds of impacts resulting from a particular activity.
- Public Hearings:
- The public hearing should be held for all projects which are likely to have environmental and social impacts. This should be strictly implemented. The scope of the public hearings needs to be widened to at least those projects which require forest clearance under the forest conservation act,1980.
- Composition of Expert Committees:
- The present executive committees should be replaced by experts from various stakeholder groups , who are reputed in environmental and other relevant fields.
- The process of selection of those committees should be open and transparent , the minutes of the committee meetings , decisions and advice by these committees should be open to the public.
- Capacity Building:
- NGO s, civil society groups and local communities need to build their capacities to use the EIA notification towards better decision making on projects that can impact their local environments and livelihoods.
- Capacities can be built to proactively and effectively use the notification rather than respond in a manner that is seen as negative or unproductive.
- Monitoring, Compliance and Institutional Arrangements:
- The EIA notification needs to build within it an automatic withdrawal of clearance if the conditions of clearance are being violated, and introduce more stringent punishment for noncompliance.
- At present the EIA notification limits itself to the stage when environmental clearance is granted. The MOEF should set up more regional offices, each with smaller areas of jurisdiction, to effectively monitor the compliance of clearance conditions.
- It would be useful to have advisory Expert committees at the MOEF regional offices, comprising ecologists, sociologists, local community members, government officials and representatives of local institutions to help with the clearance of projects at the regional levels and monitoring of compliance of conditions.
- A robust monitoring mechanism should be established by the state department where the central projects involving forest clearance are given out. Such a monitoring body should be given powers to address compliance of both sets of clearance conditions together and to take punitive action against the project proponent in case of non compliance of any of the conditions.
- Local communities should be brought into the formal monitoring and reporting process of the compliance of conditions presently done by the regional offices of the MOEF. This would help the regional office as well since the geographical areas and number of projects that come under each office is vast which affects the efficiency and regularity Student Notes: of the monitoring process.
The deadly gas leak at the LG Polymer Plant in Vizag in May last year, which took as many as twelve lives, along with harming hundreds, was found to be operating without environmental clearances for years; the already deteriorating and ecologically sensitive region of the Western Ghats has been bombarded with proposed projects which would lead to a significant loss of green cover, compromising the sustenance of River Cauvery in the region- are certain occasions which serve as reminders for the need strengthen the existing environmental regulations for the benefit of the public and preservation of the environment for future generations.
As has been the aim and intention of environmental legislation throughout the world and in India, to promote and uphold the balance between development and preservation of the environment, it becomes increasingly important to realize the importance of environmental impact assessment towards achieving the goal of achieving the goal sustainable development.