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Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Process & Procedures

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Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

  • Development projects in the past were undertaken without any consideration to their environmental consequences.
  • In view of the colossal damage to the environment, governments and public are now concerned about the environmental impacts of developmental activities.
  • Thus, to assess the environmental impacts, the mechanism of EIA was introduced.
  • EIA is a tool to anticipate the likely environmental impacts that may arise out of the proposed developmental activities and suggest mitigation measures and strategies.
  • EIA was introduced in India in 1978, with respect to river valley projects.
  • Later the EIA legislation was enhanced to include other developmental sections.
  • EIA comes under Notification on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of developmental projects 1994 under the provisions of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • Besides EIA, the Government of India under Environment (Protection) Act 1986 issued a number of other notifications, which are related to environmental impact assessment.
  • EIA is now mandatory for more than 30 categories of projects, and these projects get Environmental Clearance (EC) only after the EIA requirements are fulfilled.
  • Environmental clearance or the ‘go ahead’ signal is granted by the Impact Assessment Agency in the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.

All projects that require clearance from central government can be broadly categorized into the following:

  1. Individual projects that need require clearance from central government,
  2. Nuclear power and related projects,
  3. River valley projects including hydel power, major irrigation and flood control,
  4. Ports, harbours, airports (except minor ports and harbours),
  5. Petroleum refineries including crude and product pipelines,
  6. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides,
  7. Petrochemical complexes and petrochemical intermediates and production of basic plastics,
  8. Bulk drugs and pharmaceuticals,
  9. Exploration for oil and gas and their production, transportation and storage,
  10. Synthetic rubber,
  11. Asbestos and asbestos products,
  12. Hydrocyanic acid and its derivatives,
  13. Primary metallurgical industries (such as production of iron and steel, aluminium, copper, zinc, lead, and ferro-alloys),
  14. Chlor-alkali industry,
  15. Integrated paint complex including manufacture of resins and basic raw materials required in the manufacture of paints,
  16. Viscose staple fibre (biodegradable fibre similar to cotton) and filament yarn,
  17. Storage batteries integrated with manufacture of oxides of lead and lead antimony alloy,
  18. All tourism projects between 200m-500 metres of High Water Line and at locations with an elevation of more than 1000 metres with investment of more than Rs. 5 crores,
  19. Thermal power plants,
  20. Mining projects (with lease more than 5 hectares),
  21. Highway projects except projects relating to improvement work provided it does not pass through ecologically sensitive areas such as National Parks, Sanctuaries, Tiger Reserves, Reserve Forests,
  22. Tarred roads in the Himalayas and forest areas,
  23. Distilleries,
  24. Raw skins and hide,
  25. Pulp, paper and newsprint, dyes,
  26. Cement,
  27. Electroplating,
  28. Meta aminophenol, etc.
The important aspects of EIA are
  • risk assessment,
  • environmental management and
  • post product monitoring.
EIA is to
  • serve as a primary environmental tool with clear provisions.
  • apply consistently to all proposals with potential environmental impacts.
  • use scientific practice and suggest strategies for mitigation.
  • address all possible factors such as short term, long term, small scale and large scale effects.
  • consider sustainable aspects such as capacity for assimilation, carrying capacity, biodiversity protection.
  • lay down a flexible approach for public involvement.
  • have in built mechanism of follow up and feedback.
  • include mechanisms for monitoring, auditing and evaluation.

Environmental Components Of EIA

  • The EIA process looks into the following components of the environment.
Air environment
  • Quality of ambient air present and predicted.
  • Meteorological data: Wind speed, direction, humidity etc.
  • Quantity of emission likely from project.
  • Impact of the emission on the area.
  • Pollution control desires/air quality standards.
  • Levels of noise present and predicted
  • Strategies for reducing noise pollution.
Water environment
  • Existing ground and surface water resources, their quality and quantity within the zone.
  • Impact of proposed project on water resources.
Biological environment
  • Flora and fauna in impact zone.
  • Potential damage (likely) due to project, due to effluents, emissions and landscaping.
  • Biological stress (prediction).
Land environment
  • Study of soil characteristics, land use, and drainage pattern, and the likely adverse impact of the project.
  • Impact on historical monuments and heritage site.

EIA Process and Procedures

Steps in EIA process
  • EIA involves the steps mentioned below. However, 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.

Steps in Preparation of EIA report

  • Collection of baseline data from primary and secondary sources;
  • Prediction of impacts based on past experience and mathematical modelling;
  • Evolution of impacts versus evaluation of net cost benefit;
  • Preparation of environmental management plans to reduce the impacts to the minimum;
  • Quantitative estimation of financial cost of monitoring plan and the mitigation measures.
Environment Management Plan
  • Delineation of mitigation measures including prevention and control for each environmental component and rehabilitation and resettlement plan.
Environmental Appraisal
  • An Appraisal Committee constituted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests will first scrutinized a project based on the data presented by the project authorities.
  • If necessary, the MoEF may also hold consultations with the investors and experts on specific issues as and when necessary.
  • After considering all the facets of a projects, environmental clearance is accorded subject to implementation of the stipulated environmental safeguards.
  • In case of projects where the project proponents have submitted complete information, a decision is taken within 90 days.
  • The six regional offices of the Ministry functioning at Shillong, Bhubaneshwar, Chandigarh, Bangalore, Lucknow and Bhopal undertake monitoring of cleared projects.
EIA of Coasts
  • Coastal Zone Management Plans (CZMPs) are prepared by coastal states or Union Territories as per rules set by CRZ notification 1991.
  • CZMPs are prepared based on identification and categorization of coastal areas for different activities and then submitted to the MoEF for approval.
  • The ministry then forms a task force for examining their plans.
Single window clearance
  • Environmental clearance + Forestry clearance.
  • When a project requires both environmental clearance as well as approval under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, proposals for both are required to be given simultaneously to the concerned divisions of the Ministry.
  • The processing is done simultaneously for clearance or rejection.
  • If the project does not involve diversion of forestland, the case is processed only for environmental clearance.

The Main Participants Of EIA

  • EIA applies to public and private sections. The six main players are:
  • 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 Ministry of Environment and Forest.

Composition of the expert committees for EIA

The Committees will consist of experts in the following disciplines:

  • Eco-system management
  • Air/water pollution control
  • Water resource management
  • Flora/fauna conservation and management
  • Land use planning
  • Social Sciences/Rehabilitation
  • Project appraisal
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Health
  • Subject Area Specialists
  • Representatives of NGOs/persons concerned with environmental issues
  • The Chairman will be an outstanding and experienced ecologist or environmentalist or technical professional with wide managerial experience in the relevant development.
  • The representative of Impact Assessment Agency will act as a Member-Secretary.
  • Chairman and members will serve in their individual capacities except those specifically nominated as representatives.
  • The membership of a committee shall not exceed 15 members.

Salient Features of 2006 Amendment 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
  1. Screening
  2. Scoping
  3. Public hearing
  4. Appraisal
  5. Category A projects require mandatory environmental clearance and thus they do not undergo the screening process.
  6. Category B projects undergoes screening process and they are classified into two types.
  7. Category B, projects (Mandatorily requires EIA).
  8. Category B2 projects (Do not require EIA).
  9. Thus, Category A projects and Category B, projects undergo the complete EIA process whereas Category B2 projects are excluded from complete EIA process.

Benefits 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 limits of the capacity of assimilation and regeneration of the ecosystem.

Shortcomings of Environmental Impact Assessment

  • 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 is being found that the team formed for conducting EIA studies is lacking the expertise in various fields such as environmentalists, wild life experts, Anthropologists and Social Scientists (to study the social impact of the project).
Public hearing
  • Public comments are not considered at the early stage, which often leads to conflict at the 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 documents which the public are entitled to are seldom available on time.
  • 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.
  • The reports are generally incomplete and provided with false data.
  • Many EIA reports are based on single season data.
  • The EIA document in itself is so bulky and technical, which makes it very difficult to decipher so as to aid in the decision making process.
Lack of Credibility
  • It is the responsibility of the project proponent to commission the preparation of the EIA for its project.
  • The EIA is actually funded by an agency or individual whose primary interest is to procure clearance for the project proposed.
  • There is little chance that the final assessment presented is un biased, even if the consultant may provide an unbiased assessment that is critical of the proposed project.
  • There are so many cases of fraudulent EIA studies where erroneous data has been used, same facts used for two totally different places etc.
  • There is no accreditation of EIA consultants, therefore any such consultant with a track record of fraudulent cases cannot be held liable for discrepancies.
  • It is hard to imagine any consultant after being paid lakh of rupees, preparing a report for the project proponents, indicating that the project is not viable.
Case Study
  • The MoEF constituted the Western Ghats Experts Ecology Panel (WGEEP) in 2010 under the Chairmanship of Prof. Madhav Gadgil.
  • The Panel submitted its report in 2011 but it was not made public immediately due to its stringent assessment of the condition of Western Ghats.
  • The report suggested many radical changes that needs to be brought to conserve Western Ghats.
  • The recommendation if implemented would adversely affect mining mafia, sand mafia and local encroachers.
  • Under pressure from various stakeholders, MoEF set up the High Level Working Group (HLWG) under the Chairmanship of Dr. K. Kasturirangan to study recommendations of WGEEP.
  • The HLWG had diluted many recommendations of WGEEP to satisfy the interests of various mafia.
Monitoring, compliance and institutional arrangements
  • Often, and more so for strategic industries such as nuclear energy projected, 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.
Q. ‘Gadgil Committee Report’ and ‘Kasturirangan Committee Report’, sometimes seen in the news, are related to (2016)
  1. constitutional reforms
  2. Ganga Action Plan
  3. linking of rivers
  4. protection of Western Ghats

Recommendations to improve EIA process

Independent EIA Authority.
  • Sector wide EIAs needed.
  • Creation of a centralized baseline data bank.
  • Dissemination of all information related to projects from notification to clearance to local communities and general public.
  • All those projects where there is likely to be a significant alternation of ecosystems need to go through the process of environmental clearance, without exception.
  • No industrial developmental activity should be permitted in ecologically sensitive areas.
Public hearing
  • Public hearings should be applicable to all hitherto exempt categories of projects which have environmental impacts.
  • The focus of EIA needs to shift from utilization and exploitation of natural resources to conservation of natural resources.
  • At present EIA reports are extremely weak when it comes to assessment of biological diversity of a project area and the consequent impacts on it. This gap needs to be plugged.
  • All EIA reports should clearly state what are the adverse impacts that a proposed project will have. This should be a separate chapter and not hidden within technical details.
  • It is critical that the preparation of an EIA is completely independent of the project proponent.
Grant of clearance
  • The notification needs to make it clear that the provision for site clearance does not imply any commitment on the part of the impact Assessment agency to grant full environmental clearance.
Composition of expert committees
  • The present executive committees should be replaced by expert’s people from various stakeholder groups, who are reputed in environmental and other relevant fields.
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 composition of the NGT needs to be changed to include more judicials from the field of environment.
  • Citizen should be able to access the authority for redressal of all violation of the EIA notification as well as issues relating to non-compliance.
Capacity building
  • NGOs, civil society groups and local communities need to build their capacities to use the EIA notification towards better decision making on projects.
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