Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is an environmental decision support tool, which gives information on the likely consequences of development projects to those who make the decision as to whether the project should be authorized.
The purpose of an EIA is to determine the possible environmental, social, and health consequences of a proposed development so that those who make the decisions in developing the project and in authorizing the project are informed about the likely consequences of their decisions before they take those decisions and are thereby more accountable.
It is intended to facilitate informed and transparent decision-making while seeking to avoid, reduce, or mitigate potential adverse impacts through the consideration of alternative options, sites, or processes.
EIA forms part of the spectrum of environmental assessment (EA) processes. Whilst EIA relates to specific projects, EA is a generic term, which also incorporates strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of policies, plans, and programs, and other forms of assessment. The distinction between these processes is highlighted in the definitions provided below.
There are a number of definitions of environmental assessment, EIA and SEA. Just a sample is given here.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a systematic and integrative process for considering possible impacts prior to a decision being taken on whether or not a proposal should be given the approval to proceed (Wood 2003)
Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is a process of prior examination and appraisal of policies, plans, and programs and other higher-level or pre-project initiatives (Sadler 1996)
It is important to note that the terms defined above have differing interpretations and meanings in different countries and that EIA and EA are often used interchangeably. In the UK, for example, the term EA has often been used to describe project-level assessment. However, for the purposes of this unit, the definitions and distinctions introduced above are used.
What are the objectives of the EIA(environment impact assessment)?
Identify & evaluate environmental, social, and economic impacts of projects
Predicts environmental consequences of projects
Ensure environmentally sound & sustainable development
Major Differences between the Zero Draft EIA of 2019 and the Draft EIA
Notification of 2020
The requirement of prior Environmental Clearance/ Environmental Permission:
● The Draft EIA 2020 introduces the concept of Environmental Permission (EP) for category B2 projects, which would allow several projects to not undergo the EIA(environment impact assessment) process, no such concept is present in the Zero Draft of 2019.
● The Draft EIA 2020 allows for the leveling of land to take place even before an environmental Clearance (EC). The Zero Draft of 2019, in line with the 2006 Notification allows only for the securing of land by building temporary sheds or fencing the area.
Stages in EIA (environment impact assessment)
Key Changes & Issues regarding Draft EIA(environment impact assessment) Notification 2020
Re-Categorisation of Projects: The draft EIA Notification 2020 re-categorizes all the projects and activities related to the production of bulk drugs and intermediates for several ailments from the ‘A’ category to the ‘B2’ category.
Clearance Post-facto: The draft states that the projects or activities can receive clearance post-facto. It implies that those projects can also seek clearance that violates the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (EPA). However, the Supreme Court order dated 1 April states such clearances are against the law.
Exemption of projects: The new draft exempts various projects from the EIA including the “strategic” projects labeled by Government, national highways and inland waterways projects. The Draft EIA states that such projects will be placed in the public domain.
The issue regarding the time allotted for public comments: These have also been issues regarding the timeline announced to invite public comments on the Draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020. Earlier, the last date for public comment was June 30. The Delhi High Court has extended the date to August 11.
Exemption to Construction Projects up to 150,000 sq m: The Draft also exempts up to 150,000 sq m construction projects from the assessment. These projects can now gain environmental clearance after scrutiny by the state-level expert appraisal committee. Earlier, the exemption was granted to construction projects of up to 20,000 sq. m or above.
Karnataka High Court stays publication of EIA Notification 2020: The Karnataka High Court has stayed the publication of EIA Notification 2020 till September 7. The ruling came on a PIL filed by United Conservation Movement Charitable and Welfare Trust (UCMCWT), seeking to translate the draft in all the 22 regional languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. The PIL also seeks to extend the last date of receiving comments to December 31, 2020.
Concerns and Problems of environment impact assessment draft
This draft entails the changes that the govt wants to bring about in Environmental impact assessment
The problem is that there are several issues with this new EIA draft, instead of making the environment act stronger, it makes it weaker.
So, all the industries are easily able to exploit it and this will cause the disasters that we see today to multiply in the future.
How is that?
1. Problem is that there is a clause of “post facto clearance”in the draft
that is, say a project has already started construction somewhere without environmental clearance
then it is not an issue say a project is already in operation somewhere without environmental clearance then it is not an issue either the project can get its environmental clearance later.
This is extremely dangerous because you have already seen the Vishakhapatnam gas leak,
the chemical plant involved in that case was operating without an environmental clearance
As per this new law, that would have been completely right and legal think about it- say, a coal mine is being constructed after clearing off a forest, and the government says it’s okay for them to do so. They can get an environmental clearance later if they haven’t been provided with a clearance earlier.
In April, Supreme Court had even passed a judgment declaring that post facto clearance is a wrong approach and that such a law should not be made.
2. Problem- The time for the public hearing has been reduced
Earlier, 30 days were designated for a public hearing. Now, only 20 days would be provided
This is clearly stated on page number 47 the last line of point 3.1 states- “A minimum notice period of 20 days shall be provided to the public for furnishing their responses.” 30 days were already insufficient. Now it has been reduced to 20. Think about it- Say, a large dam is being constructed
the construction of which might take a period of 6-7 years, and yet you’re providing a period of 20-30 days to villagers to assess the negative impacts of it? It is a very short window for them to do that and put their points before government officials
3.Problem- IF a project violates environmental law, then the public has no right to point out that violation. This violation can be revealed by the violater himself or the government.
Page number 29. Point number 22
“The cognizance of the violation shall be made on the suo moto application of the project proponent”
suo moto application means that the person working on the project can himself point out the violation
or it can be done by the government authority or the appraisal committee or the regulatory authority
4. Problem- Until now, any project that was concerned with national defence or security then that project was not put up for public hearing, and the information related to it was not made public which is right because it is not necessary in some important matters that concern national security.
But the government has added an extra line in this new draft Page number 9, point 7.
“All projects concerning national defense and security or involving other strategic considerations as determined by the central government.”
This third part is problematic, the government says that the strategic projects according to the government public information regarding that would not be revealed by the government and no public hearing would be held that means, the government can put a stamp of “strategic” on any project
Tomorrow, if someone builds a coal mine in the Ranthambhore park, and the public asks why that is happening and asks for details, the government can merely stamp a “strategic” stamp over it and refuse to disclose any information on it It is upto the government to decide what is strategic and what isn’t even if it doesn’t concern national security
5. Problem- The government has defined several projects that would be exempt from public consultations. Page number 19, point number 2
It states that “Public consultation is exempt from the following-” and they have listed out the points as projects in which there would be no public consultations
The point number that includes all linear projects in border areas
And if you look at the definition of border areas on page number 3, point 6, then you will see that Border area means area falling within 100 kilometers aerial distance from the Line of Actual control with bordering countries of India
Apart from this one can touch other dimensions(pros and cons) in few sentences with relevant side headings using popular mnemonic PESTAL i.e ( Politica, econnomical, Social, Technological, Administration, Legal) ,Geographical, emotional and ethical etc.,
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The following are a few suggestions to modify the EIA draft:
- It should be re-prepared without giving post facto clearances to establish industries, their development, and infrastructural expansions.
- No reclassification of industries: All industries should be strictly scrutinized for the environmental effects emerging from them in order to maintain a safe environment.
- No dilution of public hearings: All industries and projects should be assessed through public hearings.
- The violators of environmental norms mentioned in the EIA should be punished severely and, if necessary, licenses should be canceled.
- The cumulative environmental effect of the industries should be studied and considered.
- Ecological and wildlife expert institutes, conservationists to be given the mandate to define ‘ecological damage’ along with the Central Pollution Control Board.
- No further expansion of existing roads and new roads through forests, with the same for the railways.
- All the wetlands should be intact without establishing new industries and no permission is given for the further expansion of existing industries.
- All three reasons should be studied to prepare EIA for the establishment, expansion of industry and any project.
- Corporates should maintain corporate environmental responsibility.
- Global warming must be considered to avoid the cumulative effects on biodiversity and the environment as well.
Writing a balanced view and constructive criticism backed with relevant facts ans justification might fetch good score .