Environment Impact Assessment
- November 22, 2020
- Posted by: admin1
- Category: MMN
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
EIA is the management tool for identifying environmental, social and economic impacts of a project before decision-making. Thus, it seeks to ensure optimal use of natural resources within the context of sustainable development.
EIA and INDIA:
EIA started in India in 1978-79 in case of river valley projects. But now it has expanded to include industries, mining sector, thermal power plants etc. Under the Environment Protection Act (EPA), 1986 it has been made mandatory for 29 categories of project involving investment of Rs 50 crore and above.
Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA): It is the process of predicting and evaluating the impact of a strategic action at each level (policy, plan, programmes) on the environment and using it in decision making for development approach and sectoral reforms. It differs from EIA in following regards:
What are the Steps involved in the EIA?
- Screening: It seeks to determine if a project needs a full EIA or partial EIA based on investment, location or type of development.
- Scoping: Identify potential impacts based on legislative, international standards to identify alternative options (or even not going ahead with project) to compensate for adverse impact on biodiversity and determines terms of reference for EIA.
- Baseline data collection: on site existing environmental status is collected.
- Impact prediction: All aspects of possible impact on environment (air, water, soil, biodiversity etc), socio-economic status of the people in region.
- Reporting the EIA report with mitigation measures, compensations for probable loss.
- Public hearing: As per the EPA, 1986 public hearing is mandatory and any one likely to be impacted by the project must be given oppurtunity to give an oral/written answer to the state Pollution Control Board.
- Environment Management Plan (EMP) and Decision making: Based on all the above factors in earlier stages an EMP has to be prepared. Then, project proponents and the impact assessment authority make decision on future course of project based on EIA report and EMP.
- Monitoring, compliance, enforcing and environmental auditingof EIA and EMP terms both during implementation and in operation phase.
How does EIA help?
- Prevents project approval and implementation without oversight i.e. precautionary principle would have prevented fire at Oil India Limited in Assam this year if process was followed before environment clearance.
- Sustainable development by taking adverse consequences in account. Ex- POSCO didn’t get clearance in Niyamgiri hills as 12 village council denied clearance to it
- Compares different alternatives with decision on the best of economic and environ mental goals.
- Promotes innovation and technology to best suit the EIA norms and addressing challenges.
What is the EIA cycle proposed in EIA notification, 2006?
It talks of 4-stages of EIA to be followed in accordance with the norms. These are:
- Public hearing
It also talks of category of projects: Category A and Category B (B1 and B2 projects). In this category A and category B1 projects need mandatory EIA and B2 category does need EIA.
Category A projects are appraised at the national level by the Impact Assessment Agency and the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC).
Category B projects are appraised at the state level with B1 needing EIA and B2 does not need it. State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) and the state level EAC are provided for clearance of the category B projects.
Source: Centre for Science and Environment
Draft EIA amendments and why it has become controversial?
Features and Argument for bringing in draft EIA, 2020:
- Ramp up availability/production of bulk drugs: COVID-19 demand and disruption of global supply chain the government thought to bring certain sectors under B2 category (no EIA required). Ex- projects or activities in respect of bulk drugs and intermediates, manufactured for addressing various ailments
- Decentralization of approval process: Recategorization will lead to clearance from state level itself thereby fastening the process.
- Expeditious disposal of the proposals within given time-line and reduced scrutiny through single window online clearance
- Revive project by putting an end to policy paralysis: It allows for post-facto clearances.
- Post-facto clearances: It will legalize operations (ongoing and closed projects) without EIA and in violation category through fines. This will weaken the sanction against violations weakening the environmental fight. Earlier courts have cracked down on such violating industries.
Ex- Environment ministry itself claimed that the LG polymer gas leak in Vishakha patnam this year was due to violation of EIA norms (Post expansion of capability it applied for approval)
- Regressive and non-transparent: It allows for projects to be declared by the government as strategic. Once notified strategic no information about project will be in public domain and no public consultation. Ex- All inland waterways and national highways are excluded from public consultation and these are one of the major causes of deforestation and displacement of people.
- Disempowerment of people: Violations can only be represented by the government representatives and project proponents not citizen, public consultation initially only for 20 days (norm is 30 days), drafts only in English and Hindi and technical jargons in drafts is criticised by experts as the disempowerment of people by depriving them say in EIA.
- Recategorization as B1, B2 projects: This is dilution of the environmental norms as many projects will not be assessed by the appraisal committee now.
- Increased validity of the environment clearances (mining projects to 50 years from 30 years currently and river valley projects to 15 years from 10 years currently) will risk environmental, social and health consequences
- Federalism concerns: B2 project not to be brought before State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) is said to weaken its role in implementing innovative/cost-efficient technologies or processes to prevent the degradation of the environment.
- Protecting polluting sectors in case of modernisation and expansion: Exemption from EIA and public consultation for construction projects expansion up to 1,50,000 Sq. metres.
The draft EIA has created concerns among civil society, environmental experts, people (protest in Kerala) as well as UN special Rapporteurs criticized it against the violation of environmental laws.
Other issues in current EIA process:
- Political and bureaucratic strong hold on EIA process as generally, they lack expertise from environment, social and civil society sector.
- Applicability: In times of global warming, biodiversity loss we need more polluter pay principle, while phasing out sectors with most adverse impacts (Ex- Coal based plants). But EIA is increasing the exemptions and reduces applicability.
- Public hearing: Mostly symbolic and public do not have access to EIA on time and largely their inputs are ignored by committee.
- Lack of trained professional and Erroneous reports: Many EIA’s find copy and paste info which is violation of all EIA norms. Further preparation of EIA is done by consultants who are selected based on cost and not expertise.
- Public and government authority included at much later stage unlike in developed countries where their involvement at early stage makes the process robust.
- The consideration of alternatives in EIA is largely missing and process is oriented towards compensation more. (Centre for Science and Environment)
- In scoping process expert committee is the decision maker and public consultation is missing as it is optional. Ex- Netherland, UK etc. takes public consultation from this stage itself.
Court judgements w.r.t. public consultation in EIA:
- In Hanuman Laxman Aroskar v Union of India case court held public consultations to have an intrinsic character (values in seeking views of the local and beyond – Traditional knowledge and experience in region) and instrumental character (hearing the voices of those communities that would be affected by the activity).
In this case court also recognised value of local community knowledge in EIA along with the S&T in it.
- In Tirupur Dyeing Factory Owners Assn v Noyyal River Ayacutdars Protection Association case (2009) court held that the right to information and community participation is a co-terminus process in the EIA.
- In Research Foundation for Science Technology National Resource Policy v UoI, (2005) case court said that the states must promote public awareness through wide and effective dissemination of information to deepen public participation.
- In Centre for Social Justice vs Union of India (2001) court said that the local villagers may not understand the language and tone of EIA report. Hence, they should be made aware about it through gram panchayats, nagar panchayat etc.
- Drafts of EIA to be made more inclusive and drafted in all scheduled languages as many high courts ordered recently.
- Sustainable development approach: Though, economy might be immediate concern due to slow growth, yet, Covid-19 and existing challenges like climate change has forced us to think in terms of sustainable development. So, we rather need a EIA process based on public trust doctrine (Current draft delegated this responsibility to project proponents to assess and submit reports).
- EIA is based on precautionary principle and this must not be diluted. Because our natural resources once lost can’t be replenished at same rate of consumption currently happening.
- Move towards Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) by focussing on sectoral policies determined by sustainable development right from start.