Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a tool as explained by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is used to determine the environmental, social, and economic implications of a project prior to making a decision. Its goal is to predict environmental impacts early in the project planning and design process, develop strategies to mitigate negative effects, tailor projects to the local environment, and provide predictions and options to decision-makers.
EIA is defined as a study conducted to estimate the potential environmental impact of a proposed project or activity at an early stage in the planning and design process, as well as to create mitigation strategies. EIA examines both the positive and negative effects of planned projects symmetrically, ensuring that environmental considerations are integrated into the development process from the start. The basic concept is to balance development with environmental sustainability.
Today, EIA is one of the most successful policy interventions for environmental management, with more than 100 countries using it. Its beginnings can be traced back to the early 1970s when the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 was enacted in the United States. EIA spread to high-income countries like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand in the 1970s and 1980s, and later to developing countries like China and Brazil. The World Bank made EIA a requirement for funding major development projects in 1989. One of the themes enshrined in the Rio Declaration of 1992 was environmental impact assessment.
India and EIA
EIA was made required for some types of development projects in India in 1994, when an EIA notification was issued under the environmental(protection) act, 1986, making EIA mandatory. It was later superseded by the 2006 EIA notification, which is still in use in India. The Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Climate Change serves as the nodal ministry for EIA notifications.
The cost-benefit analysis is carried out by governments. This necessitates a thorough examination of all technological and scientific difficulties, as well as consideration of local community concerns. Since 1997, development projects have been required to go through the environment clearance (EC) procedure, which is a four-stage approval process that involves appraisal and public input. Under the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986, the government determines which projects are required and can amend the rules by executive order.
EIA 2006, which is now in effect, lists 59 different categories of projects/activities that require EIA. These are divided into two categories: A and B, with category A (31 types of projects) being appraised at the national level (by the MOEFCC), and category B (28 types of projects) being appraised at the state level.
For evaluating Category A projects, the Centre has seven Expert Appraisal Committees (EACS), whereas each state has one State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC).
Projects in Category B are separated into two groups: B1 (which requires an environmental impact assessment) and B2 (which does not) (which do not require EIA). Seacs decide whether a project belongs in the B1 or B2 category at their discretion, based on the project's size, location, impact, and ecological significance. MOEFCC has recommended guidelines for the criteria of project categorization into B1 and B2.
EIA process in India comprises 4 steps according to the EIA notification of 2006.-:
The first step in the screening process is to determine whether the project requires an EIA before receiving environmental clearance. EIA is required for all category A projects prior to EC. This procedure is followed only for projects in category B(B1). These are carried out by the EAC and SEAC at the federal and state levels, respectively. These assessment committees are multi-disciplinary sector-specific groups made up of various subject matter experts who assess sector-specific projects. Screening for category B projects is done by SEAC.
Scoping is the process of defining the EIA's scope of work. It must be completed by the consultant in collaboration with the project proponent and, if necessary, with the assistance of the Impact Assessment Agency. The MOEFC has issued guidelines for many sectors that explain the major issues that must be addressed in EIA studies. Quantifiable impacts are evaluated based on magnitude, prevalence, frequency, and duration, while non-quantifiable impacts (such as aesthetic or recreational value) are typically examined using socio-economic criteria. Following the identification of places where the proposed project could have a substantial influence, the baseline status of these areas should be observed, followed by the expected changes in these as a result of the proposed project's construction and operation.
Third, public consultation is important because local people are a significant stakeholder in any development project or activity since their livelihoods may be dependent on natural resources appropriated for the project or they may be negatively impacted by pollution caused by the project.
The state pollution control board (SPCB) or the UT pollution control committee (UTPCC) convenes a public hearing session, which is overseen by the district magistrate, in order to gather information about public concerns. These concerns are duly recorded by various means in order to keep an appropriate record of them for future reference, and project proponents are required by EIA notification to address the concerns raised by the public during the public hearing session. EMPs are created to reduce pollution of various types and dimensions, and they are also a phase in the EIA process, therefore they are vital and must be approved by a competent authority such as the Quality Council of India or the National Board for Education and Training ( NABET).
Fourth is project appraisal after the complete scrutiny and study of first three steps, eac and seac categorically make recommendations for either grant or rejection of EC(environmental clearance) for category A and B1 with reasons for the same. Appraisal is done within 60 days of final EIA and the process moves forward to decision making bodies.
MOEFCC at the national level for category A and SEIAA (state environmental impact assessment authority) at the state level for category B1 are nodal bodies that deliberate on the reports submitted by the EAC and SEAC, respectively, and make judgments. It's a lengthy process, and nodal agencies may ask evaluation committees to rethink and resubmit the final report, which is, in reality, final, and it's up to nodal agencies to grant or deny approval.
Following environmental clearance, the next phase is monitoring compliance, which involves determining whether the project proponent is adhering to the EMP's general and particular criteria. Monitoring also allows for course corrections in the middle of the race. It also requires the project proponent to produce six-monthly compliance reports. State pollution control boards, UT pollution control committees, and MOEFCC regional offices are all accountable for this.
A district expert appraisal committee (deac) evaluates EC bids for minor mineral licences at the district level. And it is for this reason that the district EIA authority has designated EC as a nodal agency. This was done in compliance with the 2006 EIA notification, which has been revised (in 2016). They are under the supervision of state eias. However, according to a 2016 NGT decision, district authorities lacked experience in granting leases for small scale and cluster mining ventures, and the MOEFCC failed to put in place necessary protections at the small scale level.
In 2019 again NGT again issued a directive for post-implementation monitoring
MOEFCC was asked to draw up an action plan to evolve an appropriate mechanism to ensure the monitoring
Quarterly monitoring for post-EC compliance.
CPCB and MOEFCC to monitor category A projects 100% and data validation not to be outsourced to a third party. And for category B data validation is to be done through SEIAA.
In order to expedite and make the process more proactive gvt. Has digitalised the process of grant and rejection of EC. They have done it through PARIVESH(proactive Responsive facilitation by interactive and virtuous environmental single window hub). This has been in effect since July 2014. This eases the process and also gives the project of digital India a boost.
Effectiveness of EIA process In India
Eia has both advantages and disadvantages; the formalisation of the process through legislation puts India ahead of a group of developing countries that have struggled to establish adequate policy measures through legislative means.
However, it has struggled on several other fronts, such as the initial phases of EIA lack public involvement, and government agencies have a limited role to play at the initial stages. Initial stages are important because they expedite the process and may help in providing a robust review, leading to an early solution of any problem that may appear, and delays can be avoided, as explained by a CAG audit in 2017.
Only 11 per cent of the time, according to the CAG study, environmental clearance was given within the prescribed time limit of 105 days. In contrast to other industrialised countries, where external stakeholders such as NGOs and other organisations are engaged before beginning the EIA process, screening is done on the basis of a pre-defined list of activities.
Even if the process is followed to the letter, the CAG audit showed that some EIA reports were generated by non-accredited consultants in some situations. Both the first and second gaps jeopardise the trust and quality of EIA reports.
As previously stated, public consultation is an important element of the EIA, but there are several flaws, such as the lack of a quorum requirement for public hearing processes, and making an informed decision about the project is critical for local residents, but The majority of reports are written in English rather than the local language, and only a few are written in the native language. In certain cases, the executive summary is translated into the local language, which adds to the difficulty; even developed countries publish reports in their native tongues. As a result, the entire process of public meetings and consultations is surrounded by scepticism.
Another issue is the lack of compliance after approval, such as tree felling and extraction. SPCBs are seen as weak monitoring agencies, and there are calls to empower them. The central nodal agency also appears to be taking a lenient approach to violations reported, with few fines imposed and no database in place. Also, All cases of infringement were granted a one-time amnesty by the MOEFCC in 2017, which lasted until September 2018. This was done to facilitate operations of units that existed prior to the directive mandating EC, resulting in controversies and, in some cases, lengthy delays owing to legal concerns. There is also no oversight at the national level. (Supreme Court of the United States, 2011; CAG, 2017).
Steps for improving the effectiveness of the process
Consolidated permissions from several domains, such as coastal, environmental, and forest, to speed up and streamline the process, making it both environmentally and commercially viable, as delays encourage people to commit more breaches in order to finish their companies without adequate scrutiny.
Quality EIA reports are critical, and the criteria should be properly followed.
Developed countries, such as the OECD, and international organisations, such as the World Bank, are increasingly urging the rest of the world to carry out strategic environmental assessments (SEA). A way for fully integrating environmental factors into the early stages of the creation of plans and programmes. SEA is an evolution of EIA that tries to strike a balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability.
Make eacs accountable for their decisions. Currently, these committees are not responsible for ensuring that the projects approved do not have a negative impact on the environment. They simply postpone clearances by continuously requesting information, or they issue clearances with a list of restrictions, knowing that these criteria will not be monitored or may even be impossible to meet. It's critical to evaluate their position and make it more open.
EACs rarely pay attention to the recommendations of public hearings; therefore, the people's opinions must be prioritised.
Increasing the MOEFCC's ability to reach out to people on the ground, as well as empowering SPCBs to look into infractions more thoroughly for post-clearance oversight.
Critical Appraisal of the Draft 2020 rules:
According to a 2012 research by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity and UNEP, natural ecosystems produce $44 trillion in annual services worldwide. Ecosystems, on the other hand, can be extraordinarily difficult and expensive to recover after a substantial disruption due to their intrinsic complexity. The 'precautionary principle' was defined as one of the main tenets of environmental justice by the NGT.
The revised draft's provisions for post-facto clearance allow enterprises to break EIA rules first and then seek a clean chit later, which is antithetical to the rule of law. In 2017, a one-time amnesty protocol was devised for projects that broke EIA 2006 guidelines and needed to be addressed through compensation or fines.
At a time when violations are becoming more common, such as the gas leak in Visakhapatnam and the oil field disaster in Baghjan, reducing compliance reports from twice a year to once a year appears regressive.
Furthermore, providing EIAs based on a single season of data might render the analysis partial and misleading, obscuring the project's entire environmental impact.
EIA 2020 restricts public engagement options by decreasing the time window for public comment from 30 to 20 days and removing a number of projects from public hearings.
Strategic considerations' is a broad new category that doesn't require hearings and could be used to circumvent the public process, jeopardising transparency and accountability.
Furthermore, complaints about the project's compliance measures can now only be submitted by the developer or the PCBs, leaving the general public out of the loop.
The new laws tilt the balance of power in environmental control heavily in favour of the Union government, weakening the federal system. The proposed amendments give the Union government complete authority over the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority's appointment.