In this article, You will read Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) – History, Objectives, Process & Procedures for UPSC.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
Environmental Impact Assessment or EIA is the process or study which predicts the effect of a proposed industrial/infrastructural project on the environment.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a tool available to the planners to achieve the goal of environmental preservation along with ensuring developmental activities.
- UNEP defines Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a tool used to identify the environmental, social, and economic impacts of a project prior to decision-making. It aims to predict environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to suit the local environment, and present the predictions and options to decision-makers.
History of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in India
- The Indian experience with Environmental Impact Assessment began over 20 years back. It started in 1976-77 when the Planning Commission asked the Department of Science and Technology to examine the river-valley projects from an environmental angle.
- Development projects in the past were undertaken without any consideration of their environmental consequences.
- In view of the colossal damage to the environment, governments and the public are now concerned about the environmental impacts of developmental activities. Thus, to assess the environmental impacts, the mechanism of EIA was introduced.
- 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 the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 issued a number of other notifications, which are related to environmental impact assessment.
- Environmental clearance or the ‘go-ahead’ signal is granted by the Impact Assessment Agency in the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.
- The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) notified new EIA legislation in September 2006.
- The notification makes it mandatory for various projects such as mining, thermal power plants, river valley, infrastructure (road, highway, ports, harbours, and airports), and industries including very small electroplating or foundry units to get environment clearance.
- However, unlike the EIA Notification of 1994, the new legislation has put the onus of clearing projects on the state government depending on the size/capacity of the project.
- 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.
The important aspects of EIA are
- risk assessment,
- environmental management and
- post product monitoring.
Environmental Components of EIA
The EIA process looks into the following components of the environment.
- Quality of ambient air present and predicted.
- Meteorological data: Wind speed, direction, humidity, etc.
- Quantity of emission likely from the 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.
- Existing ground and surface water resources, their quality and quantity within the zone.
- Impact of a proposed project on water resources.
- Flora and fauna in the impact zone.
- Potential damage (likely) due to project, due to effluents, emissions, and landscaping.
- Biological stress (prediction).
- Study of soil characteristics, land use, and drainage pattern, and the likely adverse impact of the project.
- Impact on historical monuments and heritage sites.
EIA Process and Procedures
EIA involves the steps mentioned below. However, the EIA process is cyclical with the 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 modeling;
- 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 the 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.
- 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 projects, environmental clearance is accorded subject to the implementation of the stipulated environmental safeguards.
- In the 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 to monitor 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 the 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 the diversion of forestland, the case is processed only for environmental clearance.
PARIVESH – (Pro-Active and Responsive facilitation by Interactive and Virtuous Environmental Single-window Hub)
It is an environmental single window hub for Environment, Forest, Wildlife and CRZ clearances.
This Single-Window Integrated Environmental Management System has been developed in pursuance of the spirit of ‘Digital India’ initiated by the Prime Minister and capturing the essence of Minimum Government and Maximum Governance.
- “PARIVESH” is a workflow-based application, based on the concept of web architecture. It has been rolled out for online submission, monitoring, and management of proposals submitted by Project Proponents to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC), as well as to the State Level Environmental Impact Assessment Authorities (SEIAA).
- It seeks to give various types of clearances (e.g. Environment, Forest, Wildlife, and Coastal Regulation Zone Clearances) from Central, State, and district-level authorities.
- The system has been designed, developed, and hosted by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, with technical support from National Informatics Centre, (NIC).
- It provides single registration and single sign-in for all types of clearances (i.e. Environment, Forest, Wildlife, and CRZ), unique-ID for all types of clearances required for a particular project, and a single Window interface for the proponent to submit applications for getting all types of clearances (i.e. Environment, Forests, Wildlife and CRZ clearances).
Stakeholders in the EIA Process
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 the project proponent
- Pollution Control Board (State or National)
- Public has the right to express their opinion
- The Impact Assessment Agency
- Regional centre of the MoEFCC
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
- 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 Amendments 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 the national level by Impact Assessment Agency (IAA) and the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) and Category B projects are appraised at the 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 the 2006 Amendment the EIA cycle comprises of four stages:
- Public hearing
- Category A projects require mandatory environmental clearance and thus they do not undergo the screening process.
- Category B projects undergoes a screening process and they are classified into two types.
- Category B1 projects (Mandatorily requires EIA).
- Category B2 projects (Do not require EIA).
- Thus, Category A projects and Category B, projects undergo the complete EIA process whereas Category B2 projects are excluded from the complete EIA process.
Importance of EIA
- EIA links the 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 analyze 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 the limits of the capacity of assimilation and regeneration of the ecosystem.
Shortcomings of EIA Process
- Applicability: 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 has been found that the team formed for conducting EIA studies is lacking expertise in various fields such as environmentalists, wildlife experts, Anthropologists and Social Scientists.
- Public hearing:
- Public comments are not considered at an early stage, which often leads to conflict at a 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 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 the EIA report that is being carried out.
- Lack of Credibility: There are so many cases of fraudulent EIA studies where erroneous data has been used, the same facts used for two totally different places, etc.
- Often, and more so for strategic industries such as nuclear energy projects, 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.
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 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.
- NGOs, civil society groups, and local communities need to build their capacities to use the EIA notification towards better decision making on projects.