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Environmental Impact Assessment Draft 2020

Environmental Impact Assessment Draft 2020

What is EIA?

  • UNEP defines 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.
  • By using EIA both environmental and economic benefits can be achieved, such as reduced cost and time of project implementation and design, avoided treatment/clean-up costs and impacts of laws and regulations.
  • EIA in India is statutorily backed by the Environment Protection Act, 1986 which contains various provisions on EIA methodology and process
  • The assessment is carried out by an Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), which consists of scientists and project management experts.

History of 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.
  • Till 1994, environmental clearance from the Central Government was an administrative decision and lacked legislative support.      (Environmental Impact Assessment Draft 2020)
  • On 27 January 1994, the then Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, under the Environmental (Protection) Act 1986, promulgated an EIA notification making Environmental Clearance (EC) mandatory for expansion or modernisation of any activity or for setting up new projects listed in Schedule 1 of the notification.
  • The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) notified new EIA legislation in September 2006.           (Environmental Impact Assessment Draft 2020)
  • 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.

Issue with the recent Draft  [Environmental Impact Assessment Draft 2020]

  • Post-Facto Approval
      • The new draft allows for post-facto approval for projects. It means that the clearances for projects can be awarded even if they have started construction or have been running phase without securing environmental clearances.
      • This also means that any environmental damage caused by the project is likely to be waived off as the violations get legitimised.
      • As the only remedy would be to impose a fine or punishment; but that would not reverse the detrimental consequences on the environment.
      • Post facto approval is the derogation of the fundamental principles of environmental jurisprudence and violation of the “precautionary principle,” which is a principle of environmental sustainability.
      • In 2017, post-facto clearance given to projects in Tamil Nadu was struck down by the Madras high court.
  • Public Consultation Process
      • The draft notification provides for a reduction of the time period from 30 days to 20 days for the public to submit their responses during a public hearing for any application seeking environmental clearance.
      • For project-affected people, who are frequently forest dwellers or otherwise do not have access to information and technology.
      • This will make it harder to put forth representations.
  • Compliance Report Issue
      • The 2006 notification required that the project proponent submit a report every six months, showing that they are carrying out their activities as per the terms on which permission has been given.
      • However, the new draft requires the promoter to submit a report only once every year.
      • During this period, certain irreversible environmental, social or health consequences of the project could go unnoticed because of the extended reporting time.
      • For example, if a mining project is being carried out at someplace which can be potentially hazardous to the nearby population and can contaminate the air, and water nearby, a half-yearly compliance report would better help in addressing these concerns.
  • Scope of EIA reduced
      • Industries that previously required a full assessment have been downgraded.
      • The construction industry will be one such beneficiary, where only the largest projects will be scrutinised fully.
      • While defence and national security installations were always understandably exempt, a vague new category of projects “involving other strategic considerations” will also now be free from public consultation requirements.
  • Recent industrial mishaps
    • Oil India Limited’s oil wells in the Tinsukia district, Assam went up in flames this month.
    • It is situated only a few kilometres away from protected forest.
    • Recent processes for expansion and modification apparently took place without fresh environmental clearance.
    • There was a deadly gas leak at LG Polymers’ Visakhapatnam plant in May.
    • The plant had been operating without a valid environmental clearance for decades.

Way Forward  [Environmental Impact Assessment Draft 2020]

  • On a positive note, the 2020 draft notification has a clause dedicated to definitions to several terms related to EIA. It may be beneficial in the sense that it consolidates the EIA rules and has the potential of alleviating some ambiguity in the present law.
  • However, it needs to address the above issues. In this context:
    • The ministry, instead of reducing the time for public consultation, should focus on ensuring access to information as well as awareness about the public hearing and its impact upon the whole EIA process.
    • In order to improve ease of doing business, the government should bring down the average delay of 238 days in granting environmental clearance, that emanates from bureaucratic delays and complex laws.
    • Grow now, sustain later should not be the policy, as the notion is dangerously tilted against the concept of sustainable development.
  • With the EIA, we also need Social impact assessment to achieve sustainable development in true sense.

Some Facts about EIA  (Environmental Impact Assessment Draft 2020)

  • The EIA Directive lists two types of projects: Annex I projects for which an EIA is mandatory, and Annex II projects, where an EIA is at the discretion of Member States by way of a screening procedure.
  • The main output of an EIA process is a published publicly available document, known as an Environmental Statement.
  • The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) operates a competency and quality assurance scheme for organisations that perform EIAs.
  • These projects are expected to have a substantial adverse impact on the environment. Examples are e.g.:
    • Waste treatment plants
    • Thermal power stations
    • Roads and railway lines
    • Skiing areas
    • Pipelines
    • Airfields
    • High voltage power lines
    • Leisure parks, shopping centres, accommodation enterprises or publicly accessible car parks
    • Extraction of raw materials
    • Hydroelectric power plants
    • Intensive animal husbandry
    • Deforestation
    • Industrial plants (e.g.: Chemical plants, iron and steel works, paper and pulp factories, casting plants, cement factories, refineries, breweries, carcass disposal plants)
    • Environmental Impact Assessment Draft 2020

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