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Environmental Impact Assessment in a Nutshell

In this podcast, Lavina gives us a run down on the hotly debated Environmental Impact Assessment

Transcript

In the past few days, we have witnessed heated reactions of politicians, environmentalists, and concerned citizens on the  draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020, Which aims to replace EIA Notification, 2006 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The media has been buzzing with several debates and discussions on EIA.  In this context, I Lavina wish to tell you what Environment Impact Assessment is all about, in a nutshell.

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. The EIA draft notification 2020 was formed under The Environment Protection Act for imposing certain restrictions, and limitations on projects in order to diminish their impact on the environment. 

Let me quickly introduce you to Terminology: 

EC – Environment Clearance is Consent from the regulatory authority, on the recommendation by appraisal

EP – environment Permission to carry out the project, especially for category B2 that does not need to approach the appraisal committee

Project Categories:

In order to regulate projects of different scales, they have been categorized according to the size of the project. Category A projects are > 500-hectare mining area. River valley projects, nuclear, thermal, oil gas, petroleum projects fall under A and B1. Mining of fewer than 5 hectares, metallurgical, dye, and other small industries fall under category B2.

The EIA 2006 was set up by the Government of India in cognizance of the Ministry of Environment and Forests to impose certain conditions for projects concerned with the expansion and modernization of India. I am here to present a review of the latest draft (EIA 2020) from the government to the best of my capabilities. The following are the highlights of the draft:

  1. On March 23rd, 2020 the EIA draft notification was passed in English and Hindi, a majority of the people from affected localities are unable to understand it as it is not available in regional languages. 
  2. The consultant organization that will conduct the baseline will be a private organization chosen by the government. This can allow unlawful practices for profiteering. 
  3. The baseline data which depicts the pre-project environmental scenario, which includes land, water, air, wildlife, socio-economic, etc. at the site is collected once a year, as monsoon data will not be considered, we are losing the count on major wildlife data which flourishes during monsoon.  (Data is collected for seasons other than monsoon). 
  4. Environmental impact during the monsoon season is not accounted for.
  5. In protected areas, activities in B1 should be assessed to avoid secondary damage to the environment. 
  6. In general, any project in eco-sensitive, protected, or severely polluted areas shall be appraised by the central board.
  7. The regulatory committee has the power to give EC to projects that have not been cleared by the appraisal committee.
  8. Projects under B2 get the application accepted within 7 days and they follow basic terms of reference to assess the area without regulatory checking which includes projects like the expansion of the highway, industrial, etc. 
  9. Digitizing environment clearance and post-facto approval which allows projects to carry on that started illegally could threaten the environment further
  10. The Terms of reference provided for river valley projects have a 5-year validity. There can be numerous irreversible changes that can occur during this time.
  11. In terms of the sea, only beyond 12 nautical miles, secondary data must be included in the baseline.
  12. Public hearings shall be conducted district-wise or based on location if the hearing concerns many districts. Written responses concerning the public hearing from other stakeholders are also considered. 
  13. The regulatory authority decides if the project needs a public hearing.
  14. Project Information should be available to the public in libraries, or electronically on the website.
  15. Forty days shall be provided from the day of submission of application and the permission for the hearing will be granted in 15 days. 
  16. State Pollution Control Board  OR Union Territory Pollution Control Committee shall finalize the date and time within ten days of submission of application.
  17. A notice period of 20 days shall be provided for public response. 
  18. No postponement of the public hearing unless it is an emergency.
  19. Yearly submission of Environmental compliance report from the date of grant of prior EC, where the damage can be easily covered. 
  20. EC will be revoked in case of non-submission of compliance report for three consecutive years.
  21. Projects listed under B2 do not require scoping.
  22. Classification for each category and the clearance given is based on land use and not the type of industry and pollution that it causes.
  23. The validity of baseline data is 3 years.
  24. No EIA Report shall be required for the projects listed under Category ‘B2’.
  25. B2 project is exempt from public consultation.
  26.  40 industries such as petroleum, mines, dams, highway expansion, etc. have been exempted from public hearing which could risk a greater portion of the eco-sensitive zone being destroyed. 
  27. National Board for wildlife isn’t a part of the panel for taking decisions within the protected areas.
  28. In case the SPCB or UTPCC concerned does not undertake and complete the public hearing within the specified period, as above, the Regulatory Authority shall engage another public agency or authority which is not subordinate to the Regulatory Authority, to complete the process within a further period of forty working days.
  29. The complexity of the procedure may stand as an obstacle for the common man to understand the terms and conditions of the application process.

Apart from the general issues that were identified in the draft, here are a few positives that can be drawn:

  1.  There have been numerous cases where the govt has ordered the closure of an industry for violation of the EC. For example, The national green tribunal in 2017 shut down 13 industries, one of them was a Jubilant Life science Unit located around the catchment area of Bagad river, which released chemical effluents without treating and on heavy flow, it would meet river Ganga.
  2. In case of mining, if there are any violations as per the act, the people in charge are liable for imprisonment and provide 100% payback 
  3. EC is required for support fencing, shed, boundary, excavation, etc. 
  4. For projects under B1, the modernization of existing projects requires EC.
  5. River valley projects include monsoon data also and its one year study.
  6. Advertisements about the project should be done in regional and national newspapers.

So what is the way forward?

Public hearings should be made applicable to all categories of projects that have environmental impacts without any exemption.

  1. It’s essential that The focus of EIA shifts from utilization and exploitation of natural resources to conservation.
  2. It is critical that the preparation of an EIA is completely independent of the project proponent.
  3. The current  EIA notification needs to build within itself a stringent mechanism of withdrawal of clearance when conditions of clearance are violated and appropriate punishment for noncompliance. The draft EIA notification in the present form limits itself to just the stage of granting environmental clearance. 
  4. Care should be taken to address some genuine concerns of environmentalists so that Industrialization can flourish along with nature in a sustainable manner


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this podcast are personal and do not necessarily represent that of Science policy forum

About the author

Lavina

Lavina

Lavina has a Master's degree in Marine Biology with a master's thesis on Microplastic pollution in the coastal habitats.
Being a keen conservationist, she has been actively working on fighting plastic by creating awareness through online movements. she has been an advocate for bio-degradable sanitary napkin practices.
Lavina served as a Volunteer at the Nature Conservation Foundation on " Study of the effects of an invasive species Lantana camara on the consumption of fruits of Native shrubs by birds in the Eastern ghats ’ .
She also worked as an Intern at NCBS, Bangalore on "Cetaceans distribution in Lakshadweep islands".

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