Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is the study or the evaluation which predicts the impact of a proposed developmental project or activity on the environment. It is a process whereby people’s views are taken into consideration before granting final approval to any developmental project or activity. The draft notification is issued under the powers of the Central Government under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to take all measures for “protecting and improving the quality of the environment”. The EIA process is an outcome of the 1992 Rio Declaration, which says that environmental issues are best handled through the participation of all concerned citizens and that states must provide an opportunity for citizens to participate in the decision-making processes.
In March 2020, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in the exercise of powers conferred under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 published the Draft EIA Notification 2020 inviting suggestions from the public. The draft is disputable and controversial because some provisions in it legitimises environmental degradation, lack publicity, and violates the previous methodology. In this article, the author has talked about EIA, its Draft, and the reaction of States, specifically the State of Karnataka to it.
Most of the developmental activities use natural resources as raw material and waste generated is disposed into the environment. The signs of such disposal and depletion of scarce resources are evident from the deteriorating air quality, soil degradation, polluted rivers, streams, etc. It is now recognised that, for sustainable development and optimum usage of natural resources, environmental concerns are requisite to be cohesive in planning, creating, and application of development missions. The envisaged benefits from development projects cannot be fully realised unless they are environmentally and socially sound and sustainable. Growing recognition of environmental conservation and sustainable growth over the years has also given rise to stress on the need for sound environmental management practices through the creation of environmental management strategies to mitigate the effects of construction activities.
Environmental conservation and sustainable development have been the key aspects of the policies and procedures regulating industrial and other growth activities in India. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry has taken a range of policy measures and implemented environmental and pollution control legislation to avoid the indiscriminate use of natural resources and to encourage the incorporation of environmental issues into construction projects; one such measure is the notification of Environmental Impact Assessment ( EIA) of development initiatives under the clauses of the EIA. Thus, Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is one of the management tools for incorporating environmental concerns in the development process and decision making.
Definition of Environment Impact Assessment:
The International Association for Impact Assessment describes an environmental impact assessment as “a mechanism to determine, forecast, evaluate and mitigate the biophysical, cultural and other related effects of development initiatives prior to the adoption of major decisions and commitments”. “A systematic process of identifying future consequences of a current or proposed action.” The process is- Transparency, Certainty, Participation, Practicability, Electricity, Cost-effectiveness, Credibility, Accountability. The Finnish International Development Agency (FINNIDA) has defined Environment Impact Assessment most innovatively in the following ways:
1. Environment Impact Assessment may be defined as a planning tool that is used, together with the project feasibility study, to ensure that, the project plan is economically optimal. Environmental plan, i.e. the plan is environmentally as well as economically sound and thus represents the best approach to planning for development projects in order that continuing economic development will be sustainable. The essential message of the famed UN Brundtland Report of 1987 is that the only sustainable development is economic-cum-environmental development;
2. The Environment Impact Assessment is not intended to disrupt nor to impede economic development. A project plan which is economic cum-environmental will have a higher benefit/cost ratio than a plan which is not responsive to environmental needs, especially when the long term, as well as short term effects, are considered;
3. The role of Environment Impact Assessment is not only to identify and describe environmental hazards that a proposed project is likely to cause if no EPM (Environmental Protection Measures) are included in the project. Rather, the Environment Impact Assessment should specify the necessary EPM and ensure that these EPMs are included in the overall project plan as delineated by a feasibility study.
Need for Environment Impact Assessment:
Every anthropogenic activity has some impact on the environment, but these activities cannot be stopped because human beings cannot survive without taking up these activities for his food, security, and other needs. Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is one such tool available with the planners to achieve the concerned goal.
Principle 17 of the Rio Declaration, 1992 also requires the states to follow the EIA. It states as follows: “Environmental Impact Assessment, as a national instrument shall be undertaken for the proposed activities that are likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment, and are subject to a decision of a competent national authority.”
The objective of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is to foresee the potential environmental problems that would arise out of development and address them in the project’s planning and design stage. The objectives of EIA as described by the Council of European Economic Committee are as follows:
“The effects of the project on the environment must be measured in order to take into account issues related to the security of human health, to contribute to the quality of life through an improved environment, to safeguard the diversity of species and to preserve the reproductive potential of the ecosystem as a basic resource of life. According to the EIA, the safest environmental strategy is to avoid negative consequences rather than seek to mitigate them subsequently.”
By using Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) both environmental and economic benefits can be achieved, such as reduced cost and time of project implementation and design, clean-up costs, and impacts of laws and regulations.
Origin of Environment Impact Assessment
The technique of EIA finds its origin from the “precautionary principle” which requires the refusal of consent or approval of the developmental activity by the competent authority; if such a project poses a threat of serious or irreversible environmental damage. To determine the serious or irreversible nature of the environmental effects on the developmental activity, EIA is necessary. The precautionary principle mandates that the EIA should be made obligatory for developmental activities which are likely to have a significant adverse effect on the environment. In case the EIA reveals that the developmental activity poses a threat of serious or irreversible environmental damage, the competent authority must withhold the consent for approval or permission to such activity.
The ‘precautionary principle’ mandates that EIA should be carried out not only at the time of commencement of the developmental project but also during the operation of the project. EIA involves continued assessment and evaluation of the environmental effects of the developmental project as the project is in operation and is not confined to pre-project evaluation of possible environmental effects.
India and Environment Impact Assessment
EIA, in India, started in 1976–77 as the Planning Commission requested the Science and Technology Ministry of the period to examine the projects in the river valley from an environmental point of view. This was subsequently extended to cover those projects which required approval of the Public Investment Board (PIB), but as these were only administrative decisions and lack statutory backing, the Government decided to give it statutory backing under the Environment (Protection) Act of 1980. Thereafter, a notification in this regard was issued on 27 January 1994 under the Environment (Protection) Act which was subsequently amended on 4 May 1994, 10 April 1997, 27 January 2000, and September 14, 2006, making EIA mandatory for thirty activities. Some practices allowed under the Coastal Regulation Notification Zone 1991 also entail clearance.
Further, Government notifies, from time to time, certain areas in the country as ecologically sensitive and that developmental activities are not to be taken up in those regions. These areas are regulated as per the provisions of these notifications. Such as include Coastal Regulation Zone, Doon valley, Murud-Janjira, Dahanud, Namaligarh, Taj trapezium, and Aravalli ranges in Gurgaon (Haryana) and Alwar (Rajasthan) districts. Activities to be conducted in forest areas are administered by the Forest (Conservation) Act and Wild Life Protection Act.
EIA Draft, 2020
New updates to the Environmental Impact Assessment Draft, 2020 notice sets out the process for companies to determine the economic and environmental effects of their planned operations and the method by which they will be evaluated by expert committees appointed by the Ministry of the Environment.
Why is the draft problematic?
The current draft breaches many provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, the Prevention of Genocide Act, 1989, as well as other legislation protecting local communities’ rights. The draft infringes the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The legislation also limits the role of environmental consultants and scientists in environmental clearance systems.
Draft EIA 2020 has a description issue. It provides precise definitions of eco-sensitive areas and also tends to leave several protected areas out of its definition, such as wetlands, coasts, reserve forests, village forests, etc. The definition indirectly favours the polluters and violators and ignores the conditions regarding environment violating projects which are approved by the regulatory authority.
The deforestation for future initiatives will reduce carbon sinks and the habitat loss of ecologically associated biodiversity (inclusive humans) will also increase. It all would result in a further deterioration of the environmental and ecological equilibrium, leading to a disaster. It can be characterized by the easiness, instead of common people’s rights, but of manufacturing, company, company, capitalism. As more than 40 hazardous projects have been discharged from public discussion.
As the EIA draft notification was published in two languages, i.e. Hindi and English concerning official languages act by the Central Government. This subsequently led to the raising of many objections against it, regarding its publicity. Karnataka State also raised its voice against the same by filing a petition i.e. United Conservation Movement Charitable and Welfare Trust(r) v. Union of India.
The petitioners claimed that the draft notification breaches the former practices and lacked sufficient publicity. The draft was not published in vernacular languages and was only made available on the official website of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. Also, inadequate time was provided by the center, to the public for sharing their views and opinions.
Therefore, Karnataka High Court restrained the Central Government from publishing the EIA Daft Final Notification i.e. passing the legislation, provided to lend reasonable time to the public in order to file objections and send feedback regarding the draft. Also, to translate the draft in all the 22 languages which are recognised by Schedule 8 of the Indian Constitution. Union Ministry of Environment was asked to take permissible necessary steps concerning impugned EIA draft notification. The Government was cautioned regarding the publicising of the controversial draft otherwise, the court shall pass a stay order through an interim prayer (was verbally mentioned by the bench). Hence, the Government cannot proceed with publishing the final draft notification without verifying and satisfying the plea of petitioners.
Karnataka’s United Conservation Movement (UCM) has begun an online petition calling on the public to demand and seek an enhanced and impugned EIA. The EIA 2020 draft tends to encourage increased emissions, by diluting restrictions on manufacturing and construction activities. In this era of tremendous pollution in our city areas, the EIA 2020 needs to be improved, rather than permitting over 30 criteria that dilute the reports for more than 25 hazardous industries.
Ecological scientists and environmentalists in Karnataka warn that diluting EIA will be a direction towards disaster. This will harm the Indian Biodiversity hotspots especially the sensitive areas of the Western Ghats which is ecologically fragile and is already degrading.
EIA is defined by the UNEP as a tool used to identify the environmental, social, and economic impacts of a project prior to decision-making. It involves public opinion regarding likely environmental impacts of a proposed project with an aim to reduce adverse impacts. The Delhi High Court in Samarth Trust case had considered EIAs “a part of participatory justice in which the voice is given to the voiceless and it is like a jan sunwai, where the community is the jury.”The government needs to promote and protect the right to life and a healthy environment as mentioned in Article 21.
The government needs to bring down the delays in granting environmental clearance in order to improve India’s position in the ease of doing business rankings. COVID-19 has given us all a wake-up call to mend our relationship with the Earth. Therefore, it is time to make environmental laws stricter. The need for stricter and efficient environmental laws has become imperative in the present age of climate change.
Administrations, on a domestic and a global level need to formulate policies that reduce their carbon footprint and the per capita emissions of greenhouse gases. The first step in making this change towards a sustainable future is to regulate and monitor the activities of the industries that contribute the majority share towards polluting the environment, which means that firm environmental clearances and legislations need to be enforced. The EIA is such a draft that aims to assess the impact of such projects on the environment.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- What is EIA and how is it helpful?
- Explain the Precautionary Principle.
- What is India’s participation in Environment Protection?
- Why is Draft EIA, 2020 controversial?
- How Indian states and the public participated in criticism of disputed draft?
- Dr. S.C. Tripathi, Environmental Law, Central Law Agency