Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural, and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse. UNEP defines Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a tool used to identify the environmental, social, and economic impacts of a project before 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.Stakeholders in the EIA Process involve 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 and Regional centre of The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC).EIA is important in various ways: EIA links environment with development for environmentally safe and sustainable development, provides a cost-effective method to eliminate or minimize the adverse impact of developmental projects, enables the decision-makers to analyse the effect of developmental activities on the environment well before the developmental project is implemented, encourages the adaptation of mitigation strategies in the developmental plan and makes sure that the developmental plan is environmentally sound and within the limits of the capacity of assimilation and regeneration of the ecosystem.EIA involves the steps mentioned below-
• Screening: The project plan is screened for the scale of investment, location, and type of development, and if the project needs statutory clearance.
• Scoping: The project’s potential impacts, the zone of impacts, mitigation possibilities, and the need for monitoring.
• Collection of baseline data: Baseline data is the environmental status of the 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 bypassing 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 the project site may be informed and consulted.
• Decision making: Impact Assessment Authority along with the experts consult the project in-charge along with the consultant to take the final decision, keeping in mind EIA and EMP (Environment Management Plan).
• Monitoring and implementation of an 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
India issued the country’s first Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification in 1994, under the Environment (Protection) Act (EPA) of 1986. This was later replaced by a modified draft in 2006. In both forms, the EIA performs the important function of assessing and regulating the impact of new projects on the environment.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 the 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. Several 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 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 insufficient details and the information not disseminated to the communities.What’s wrong with EIA Draft 2020? –
First of all, the EIAs done today in India are not great. A lot of them are cut/copy/paste jobs. But that doesn’t mean that the existing law itself is bad. The draft EIA notification tries to dismantle the core idea that an assessment should be done before a project starts. One of the provisions of the new draft is that projects that have come up illegally, that is, projects without environmental clearances can be legalized. A committee is going to appraise the project and they may recommend it or they may close it down. On top of that, according to the new draft, violations can only be reported by a government representative or the project proponent, not citizens.Way Forward-
• 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 the general public.
• Applicability: All those projects where there is likely to be a significant alteration 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 hearing: Public hearings should apply 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. 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 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 judicial persons from the field of the environment. Citizens should be able to access the authority for redressal of all violation of the EIA notification as well as issues relating to non-compliance.
• Capacity building: NGOs, civil society groups, and local communities need to build their capacities to use the EIA notification towards better decision making on projects.-Anoushka Chandra