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The success of

ENVIRONMENT IMPACT ASSESSMENT


Is still a distant dream for India!!
Human developmental activities hugely impact the environment. More often these
activities are harmful to the environment than benign. However mankind today cannot live
without taking up these activities for its food, security and other needs. It is desirable to ensure
that the development options under consideration are sustainable. Consequently, there is a need
to harmonise developmental activities with the environmental concerns. Environmental impact
assessment (EIA) is one of the tools available with the planners to achieve the above-mentioned
goal. In doing so, environmental consequences must be characterised early in the project cycle
and accounted for in the project design.

EIAs have two roles - legal and educational.


The legal one is quite straight forward: to ensure that development projects such as a housing es
The educational one is equally important and probably a forerunner to the legal role - to educate

Evolution of EIA and its Indian Journey


EIA is one of the successful policy innovations of the 20th Century for environmental
conservation. Around four decades ago there was no EIA but today it is a formal process in
many countries and is currently practiced in more than 100 countries. EIA as a mandatory
regulatory procedure originated in the early 1970s, with the implementation of the National
Environment Policy Act (NEPA) 1969 in the US. A large part of the initial development took
place in a few high-income countries, like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (1973-74).
However, there were some developing countries as well, which introduced EIA relatively early
- Columbia (1974), Philippines (1978). The EIA process really took off after the mid-1980s. In
1989, the World Bank adopted EIA for major development projects, in which a borrower
country had to undertake an EIA under the Bank's supervision
EIA in India was started in 1976-77 when the Planning Commission asked the then Department
of Science and Technology to examine the river-valley projects from environmental angle. This
was subsequently extended to cover those projects, which required approval of the Public
Investment Board. These were administrative decisions, and lacked the legislative support. The
Government of India enacted the Environment (Protection) Act on 23 rd May 1986. To achieve
the objectives of the Act, one of the decisions that were taken is to make environmental

impact assessment statutory. Till 1994, environmental clearance from the Central
Government was an administrative decision and lacked legislative support.
On 27 January 1994, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF), Government of
India, 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. Since then there
have been 12 amendments made in the EIA notification of 1994. The MoEF notified new
EIA legislation in September 2006. The notification made 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. Certain activities permissible under the Coastal Regulation Zone Act, 1991
also require similar clearance. Additionally, donor agencies operating in India like the World
Bank and the ADB have a different set of requirements for giving environmental clearance to
projects that are funded by them.

COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS BETWEEN THE DEVELOPED AND DEVELOPING WORLD (incl. INDIA)
THE STATUS OF LEGISLATION
When one looks at the Developed world, in most of the developed countries, a well-framed EIA legislation in place.
For instance, in Canada, Canadian Environmental Assessment Act regulates EIA while EU countries are guided by
Directive on EIA (1985). The story is however opposite in the Developing world with a conspicuous lack of formal EIA
legislation in many developing countries. For instance, EIA is not mandatory in many African countries. India,
thankfully, has a formal legislation for EIA. It has been enacted by making an amendment in the Environment
Protection Act 1986.
WHO PARTICIPATES IN EIA
In developed countries, there is active involvement of all participants including competent authority, government
agencies and affected people at early stages of the EIA. This makes the process more robust and gives a fair idea of
issues, which need to be addressed in the initial phase of EIA. But in the Developing countries, including India, there is
limited involvement of public and government agencies in the initial phases. This often results in poor representation of
the issues and impacts in the report, adversely affecting the quality of the report.
APPROACH OF EIA
Integrated approach to EIA followed in the Developed world. All aspects including social and health are taken into
account. But the Developing countries cant afford to do so and mainly environmental aspects are considered generally
neglecting the social or health aspects. For instance, there is no provision in place to cover landscape and visual impacts
in the Indian EIA regulations.
In Developed Countries there is proper consideration of alternatives while conducting EIA unlike the developing
countries where no such consideration is given.
In Developed countries the process of SCREENING is well defined. For instance, in EU countries competent
authorities decide whether EIA is required after seeking advice from developer, NGO and statutory consultees. In
Japan, screening decision is made by the authorizing agency with respect to certain criteria. In Canada, federal
authority determines whether an environmental assessment is required or not. In Developing countries, screening
practice in EIA is weak. In most cases, there is a list of activities that require EIA, with or without any threshold values.
Like in India screening done on the basis of a defined list. Threshold values on the size of the project has been used to
decide whether the project will be cleared by the state government or the central government.
In Developed countries, the SCOPING process is comprehensive and involves consultation with all the stakeholders. In
many countries like US, Netherlands, Canada and Europe, the involvement of the public and their concern are
addressed in the scoping exercise. Besides this, funding organisations such as World Bank, ADB and ERDB have
provision for consultation with the affected people and NGOs during identification of issues in scoping exercise. But,
Scoping process in most developing countries is very poorly defined. In many countries including China, Pakistan, etc.
there is no provision for scoping. In some countries like in Nigeria and Indonesia, a term of reference is followed for
scoping while in some countries like Ghana, Taiwan and Chile, a general checklist is followed. In countries where it is
undertaken, there is no public consultation during scoping. Moreover, in most developing countries, scoping is often
directed towards meeting pollution control requirements, rather than addressing the full range of potential
environmental impacts from a proposed development. In the case of India, in 1970s and 80s scoping was done by
consultant or proponent with an inclination towards meeting pollution control requirements, rather than addressing the
full range of potential environmental impacts from a proposed development. However, the new notification has put the
onus of scoping on the expert committee based on the information provided by the proponent. Consultation with public
is optional and depends on the discretion of the expert committee.
WHO CONDUCTS EIA
Developed Countries follow a multi-disciplinary approach. Involvement of expert with expertise in different areas.
However, a conspicuous lack of trained EIA professionals often leads to the preparation of inadequate and irrelevant
EIA reports in developing countries. In India, Preparation of EIA is done by consultants. Therefore, the selection
criterion for the organisation is fees/cost rather than the expertise of EIA team.

EIA Process in INDIA and the associated challenges


EIA process in India involves four basic steps, (a) screening and scoping, (b) preparation of the
EIA report, (c) review and decision-making and (d) post project monitoring. In EIA notification,
2006, the project activities listed in Schedule-I are categorized in two major categories A and B. It
has been done based on the spatial extent of potential impacts on human health and natural and
man-made resources. Category-A projects clearance are to be granted by the MoEF while
Category-B projects are to be cleared by the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority
(SEIAA).

However the contemporary EIA practice is facing several challenges. Some of which are:
1. Sound legal provisions but weak administrative set up
In India the legislative provisions and guidelines for EIA are quite comprehensive.
The EPA, 1986 and various other laws, to which EIA process is linked and draws its
meaning, explicitly states penalties and fines along with imprisonment in case of any
infraction of the legal provision. However, a lack of implementing mandatory
requirements for EIA including no use of powers to impose fines is resulting in the
development and operation of many projects, likely to cause environmental and socioeconomic impacts, without undergoing an EIA. Furthermore, proponents are aware
that the responsible authorities lack the enforcement machinery. Thus projects for
which EIA is carried out, it takes place after procurement of site or even some cases
after start of construction and hence EIA becomes just a formality.
2. Lack of coordination
The coordination between EIA proponents, consultants, MoEF, CPCB, SPCB, Planners and
decision-makers is generally weak. This is leading not only to the inadequate scoping, impact
assessment and consideration of concerned departments views in the EIA report but also to
the start of the developmental projects prior to getting EIA clearance. In the present Indian
context the financial institutions and utility service providers are not responsible to ensure
EIA clearance before providing loans and utility connections. Once the development works
take off, the possibilities of alternatives or modifications in project design during construction
are meagre or none in many cases.
3. Inadequate screening and scoping
The screening process in Indian system is linked to the various types of project activities
listed in schedule-I of EIA Notification, MoEF, 2006.It doesn't define anything on level of
impacts, type of pollutants, size of project and technology used as considered in other
countries.
4.

Poor quality of EIA reports and limited review

The overall quality of EIA reports in India is unsatisfactory. The lack of expertise of EIA
professionals and approval authorities along with reluctance on part of the proponents to
allocate resources are some of the encumbrances to better quality EIA. The reviewing of EIA

reports is generally process and substance oriented except some comments on the quality of
impact assessment by EIA expert appraisal committee. Lack of expertise and limited
resources with executing authorities result in inferior decision-making..
5.

Inadequate public participation

The Indian system provides good guidelines for public consultation like many EIA regimes
around the globe. Most of the developed nations in the world public involvement are
mandatory at various stages of EIA i.e screening, scoping, report preparation and decision
making. But in India public hearing is conducted once, just before making decisions.
Moreover the points raised in public hearing are rarely involved in the planning and decision
making. Hence, the effectiveness of the public participation in Indian EIA system is yet to be
evaluated.
6.

Inadequate implementation of mitigation measures and monitoring

The implementation of an Environment Management Plan, mitigation measures and postdecision monitoring are some of the weaknesses of Indian EIA system. These shortfalls are
due to the lack of enforcement machinery and environmental authorities. There is an
encouragement from government, since the project proponents are powerful and contribute
substantially to improve socio-economic conditions of the project locality.

The challenges for EIA are political rather than technical. In order to make EIA more than a
ritual, changes in attitudes and behaviours of political leaders and public officials will be
necessary. These changes can come from strong base in environmental policy, law and rights.
EIA is universal, but situations do change from culture to culture. Even if the technical and
financial issues are dealt with in an appropriate manner to produce desired results, the quality
of EIA cannot be achieved unless socio-political context in which the EIA system has to
operate is favourable. The need of the hour is to transform political will in favour of
development but not at the cost of environment.