Recently, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has come up with a new notification regarding the replacement of the current Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Draft. However, this regressive step seems as an attempt to weaken the environmental rules and regulations. The new proposed draft aims to favour the industrial sector of India but neglects the aspects of sustainable growth as well as environmental protection. Different responses were bestowed on this matter followed by the activists approaching to the court against these changes. This article deals with the concept of the EIA draft, its historical background and a brief idea on the recent alterations.
Environment Impact Assessment, Draft, Alterations, Environment, Development
Environmental Impact Assessment is a method of assess or evaluate the possible effects of any proposed project on the environment, keeping in account the socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts that are both beneficial and adverse in nature. The EIA notification is provided under Section 3 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986. It is a very crucial process in which people’s viewpoints are taken into consideration so as to provide approval of any development project or scheme. In simple words, it is a decision making instrument finalizing any plan in context with its overall impacts. The whole purpose of this is to decide the influences at an early level in order to find relevant measures to reduce the undesirable consequences. It includes projects like mining of coal or other minerals, infrastructural development, thermal, nuclear and hydropower projects, real estate and other industrial projects. EIA in India is assisted by the statute called the Environmental Protection Act, 1986. This legislation contains the provision regarding the methodology and process of EIA.
Historical Background of EIA
The occurrence of EIA in India began in 1970s. The Planning Commission directed the Department of Science and Technology to examine the river-valley projects from an environmental aspect. Being a signatory to Stockholm Declaration on Environment, the country began to implement laws related to controlling water and air pollution. After the disastrous Bhopal Gas Leak Tragedy in 1984, the need for Environment Protection Act was identified and as a result, it was established after two years. Till 1994, there was lack of legislative support for EIA, but in 1994, EIA norms were first placed under a legal framework for the purpose of regulating activities that access, utilize, and affect natural resources. Since then, every development project has to cross the described process for getting environment clearance. The aforementioned notification of 1994 was later replaced by a modified draft in September, 2006. This draft mandated environment clearance for various projects and industries including very small electroplating or foundry units. Besides this, this legislation has burdened the government to clear projects based on the size and capacity of the project.
Process of EIA
EIA process involves the steps as mentioned below. It is cyclical in nature with cooperation between the various steps:
- Screening: The planned project is entirely screened on the measures of scale of investment, location and type of development. Also, if the project needs statutory clearance.
- Scoping: The potential effects of project, the region of impacts, possibilities of improvement and monitoring requirements.
- Collection of baseline data: Baseline data refers to the environmental status of area that is being studied. The data is collected and examined.
- Impact prediction: All positive, negative, reversible, irreversible, temporary and permanent impacts are required to be predicted that helps the assessment agency in a good understanding of the project.
- Mitigation measures and EIA report: The EIA report includes the ways and methods to prevent, minimize the impacts or include the estimated level of compensation if any environmental damage or loss occurs.
- Public hearing: After the EIA report is completed, society and environmental groups who live close to project area are informed and consulted.
- Decision making: Along with the Experts, Impact Assessment Authority consults the project-in-charge along to finalize the decision with the help of EIA and Environment Management Plan.
- Monitoring and implementation of environmental management plan: The different phases of implementation of the project are observed..
- Assessment of Alternatives, Delineation of Mitigation Measures and Environmental Impact Assessment Report: Possible alternatives and environmental attributes should be identified for every project. After this review, plans should be executed for selected option to guide toward environmental improvements.
- Risk assessment: The procedure also includes Inventory analysis and hazard probability.
Salient Features of 2006 Amendment of EIA
The EIA draft of 2006 has categorized the projects in two categories, i.e. Category A: National Level Appraisal and Category B: State Level Appraisal causing the decentralization of environmental clearance projects. Projects under Category A are examined at National level by Impact Assessment Agency (IAA) and the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC). On the other hand, Category B projects are examined at state level under State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) and State Level Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC).
After the Amendment of 2006, the EIA cycle consists of four main stages. These are screening, scoping, public hearing and appraisal. As the projects under Category A are mandated for Environment Clearance, they don’t have to pass the screening process. on the contrary, Category B projects are further divided into two types:
- Category B1 Projects that require the process of EIA.
- Category B2 Projects that do not require the same.
Issues Related to EIA Draft Notification, 2020
Following are the issues pertaining to the notification of 2020:
- Post- Facto Approval: Post Facto approval means that the project clearance can be given even after the construction has been started or it is under running phase, without getting environmental clearance. The new draft allows it.As per this,if any damage is caused on environment, it may be waived off. The consequences of this would not be restored. The only remedy available would be to impose fine or punishment that clearly violates fundamental principles of environmental jurisprudence and “precautionary principles” that are elements of environmental sustainability.
- Public Consultation Process: The new draft has reduced the time limit of submitting the responses during the public hearing for clearance from 30 days to 20 days. It will cause a negative impact due to inadequate time provided to the affected people for preparation of viewpoints, suggestion and comments. Public hearing would be left meaningless and would lack transparency and reliability. It will also be problematic for the areas where information is not easily accessible or areas in which people are not alert for the process.
- Compliance Report Issue: Earlier, the draft required that it was necessary for the ongoing project to submit report in every six months to show that the activities are being undertaken as per the terms and conditions on which the permission is given. However, the time period has been changed to one year causing unnoticed irreversible environmental, social or health impacts.
- Bypassing EIA Process: Now, the authority has been given to central government to categorize projects as strategic. If a project is declared strategic by them, no information related to the same will be placed under the public domain. Violation due to this can only be reported suo moto by the project proponent or by any government authority, appraisal committee or regulatory authority that is against the principles of natural justice. Also, the draft states that new construction projects that are upto 1,50,000 sq. meters do not require detailed inception or EIA studies and public consultation.
The Positive Side and Suggestions
From the positive side, we can notice that the 2020 draft notification has a separate clause dedicated to definitions of several terms that are related to EIA. It may be beneficial because it merges the EIA regulations and has the capability of alleviating some vagueness in the present law. However, the problems are needed to be addressed. For this:
- The government should focus on ensuring access to information as well as awareness about the public hearing and its impact upon the whole EIA process instead of reducing the time for public consultation.
- To improve ease of doing business, the government should bring down the average delay of 238 days in granting environmental clearance that originates from bureaucratic delays as well as complexity of laws.
- With the EIA, it is also needed that Social impact assessment achieves sustainable development in true sense.
EIA is a concept to restrict from harming the environment of the country. The changes in the recent notifications must be done so as to keep a balance between environment protections with sustainable development. The new notification is purely focused on the industrial development instead of securing the environment. This will pose problems for future. There must be necessary actions by the Supreme Court to order the changes. Being a signatory to various environmental protection laws, India must keep in mind its provisions too.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- What is the meaning of EIA Draft?
- How the concept of EIA was originated in India?
- What is the procedure of Environment Impact Assessment?
- What are the salient features involved in EIA Draft, 2006?
- What are the changes done in the draft in 2020 and what are the issues involved in it?
- What changes can be done to deal with the problem?
- Jay Mazoomdar, (July 28th 2020), Reading the draft Environment Impact Assessment norms, and finding the red flags, [online]
- By Abhijit Mohanty, (July 6th 2020), Why draft EIA 2020 needs a revaluation, [online]
- DH Web Desk, (July 16th 2020), Why draft EIA 2020 has resulted in such an outcry, [online]
- The Indian Express, (June 27th 2020), Issues with draft EIA Notification 2020, [online]