Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is the process of evaluating the likely impacts of a proposed or existing project on the environment.EIA facilitates the evaluation of both positive and negative impacts arising out of the execution of the said project.It analyses the socio-economic,cultural and human health impacts at an early stage in project planning and design and find ways and means to reduce the adverse impacts.
The concept of EIA was introduced in the year 1970.USA was the first country to develop this system.Before it’s advent it was not necessary for entities to conduct assessments barring Mega projects of a larger scale.Today almost every country follows the EIA process.
Evolution of EIA in India
The concept of scrutinizing projects with concern for nature was started in 1976-77, when the planning commission asked the department of science to study the river valley projects from an environmental angle.
In the wake of Bhopal gas tragedy and similar incidents , Government of India in 1986 enacted a law by the name Environment Protection Act 1986. It enabled the government to impose restrictions and prohibitions on projects deemed hazardous to the environment in any part of the country.
In 1994 Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change(MoEFCC) issued a notification making environment clearance legally mandatory for expansion,modernisation or construction of projects. This paved the way for the first EIA notification of 1994.
An environmental Impact agency was setup under the ministry to take care of planning , promotion,coordination and overseeing the implementation of India’s Environment, Forest and Climate Change policies and programmes.
EIA draft 2020
The ministry of Environment , Forest and Climate Change released the draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020 on 23rd March 2020.
It seeks to replace the EIA notification 2006.
Implementation of EIA
The responsibility of Implementation of impact assessment lies with centre and state governments in India.To facilitate the process a central Expert Appraisal Committee(EAC),a state Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) and Technical Experts Committee was formed.
All projects or activities are categorised as Category ‘A’; Category ‘B1’; and Category ‘B2’ based on its requirement for Prior Environment Clearance or Prior Environment Permission.The categorisation is also based on the size and impact on the environment with A category being the largest and B2 being the smallest.
The projects specified in the category A needs mandatory clearance from the central expert appraisal committee (EAC) after a detailed study of the impact and consequences of the project on the environment. Also projects in B1 require a detailed study regarding the environmental impact and consequences and their clearance is either facilitated by EAC or SEAC but for the category B2 it will go for a direct State Expert Appraisal Committee report since it does not need further study.
There are six stages in Prior Environment Clearance process for Category ‘A’ or Category ‘B1’ as enumerated under section, in sequential order:
a)Scoping-to identify the key issues and impacts that should be further investigated. This stage also defines the boundary and time limit of the study.
b)Preparation of draft EIA report
c)Public Consultation– obtaining the public opinion regarding the project. The opinion will give emphasis on their need for the project and their concerns regarding the environment since the environment is their living habitat.
d) Preparation of final EIA
e) Appraisal – The project is appraised by the expert appraisal committee , either the Central EAC or State EAC depending upon the category of project.
f)Grant or Rejection of Prior Environment Clearance -It is done by the regulatory authority, which is the Ministry of
Environment and Forests (MoEF).
For Category ‘B2’ projects that donot required to be placed before the Appraisal Committee for Prior Environment Clearance process and Prior Environment Permission process the procedure is completed in 3 steps,
a) Preparation of Environment Management Plan
b) Verification by Regulatory Authority
c)Grant or Rejection.
Key Features of EIA draft 2020
a) All infrastructure projects and activities are divided into 3 categories A,B1 and B2 based on social and economical impact and geographical reach of the impact.
b)All projects will require prior environmental clearance from the concerned regulatory authority before commencement of any construction or installation.
c) Certain projects in the draft notification are exempted from public consultation,these includes all building construction and area development projects, common muncipal waste management facility,common effluent treatment plants,elevated roads or standalone flyovers,pellet plants, secondary metallurgical industry,clinker grinding units, synthetic organic chemical projects, highways and expressways.
d)Allows post facto approval for projects. ie. awarding clearance for projects which have commenced operations before obtaining approval.
e)New construction projects upto 150000 sq meter do not need detailed scrutiny by expert committee and EIA studies.
f)Draft exempts all defence and national security projects and projects of strategic consideration determined by the government.
g)Draft exempts riverbed mining projects on account of inter state boundary and also majority of B2 category projects from scrutiny of Appraisal Committee.
h)A public hearing of projects applicable under EIA will be conducted and a minimum of 20 days shall be provided to the public for furnishing responses, advertisement of the hearing will be published in national and local news media.
I) Validity of prior environment clearance for mining projects is 50 years, river valley projects is 15 years and all other projects are 10 years.
Since the inception of first EIA notification of 1994 till EIA draft notification of 2020 , EIA process has undergone many modifications and amendments. These changes have either adversely or favourably affected the environment. There has been efforts to dilute the EIA process and boost economic growth by tweaking certain rules as it is difficult to find balance between economic growth and conservation of environment. Most of the developments happens at the expense of environment exploitation.
Even though most aspects of EIA draft 2020 strikes the required balance of development and conservation, certain features needs deep scrutiny like dilution of provisions related to public consultations and hearings and post facto clearance.We cannot turn a blind eye towards recent tragedies at Assam oil and gas leak and Toxic gas leak at LG Polymer factory at Vishakapatanam which lead to loss of lives and environment damage. What came to light after the disaster was that the plant had been operating without a valid environmental clearance for decades. Given such incidents, weakening the EIA process is essentially anti-democratic. These incidents reminds us to be careful while drafting environment policies and implementation of stringent assessment processes.
The new draft is at the phase of receiving public response. The public responses regarding the view were invited till august 11, 2020.