Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is an essential tool to predict and prevent adverse effects on the environment due to any activity or project. Read here to know more about it.
What is Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)?
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development.
It takes into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural, and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.
According to UNEP, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is 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.
The major advantage of using EIA is that 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.
Fundamental components of EIA
- Screening to determine which projects or developments require a full or partial impact assessment study;
- Scoping to identify which potential impacts are relevant to assess (based on legislative requirements, international conventions, expert knowledge, and public involvement), to identify alternative solutions that avoid, mitigate or compensate for adverse impacts on biodiversity, and finally to derive terms of reference for the impact assessment;
- Assessment and evaluation of impacts and development of alternatives, to predict and identify the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, including the detailed elaboration of alternatives;
- Reporting the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or EIA report, including an environmental management plan (EMP), and a non-technical summary for the general audience.
- Review of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), based on the terms of reference (scoping) and public (including authority) participation.
- Decision-making on whether to approve the project or not and under what conditions; and
- Monitoring, compliance, enforcement, and environmental auditing. Monitor whether the predicted impacts and proposed mitigation measures occur as defined in the EMP. Verify the compliance of the proponent with the EMP, to ensure that unpredicted impacts or failed mitigation measures are identified and addressed in a timely fashion.
The genesis of Environmental Impact Assessment
EIA 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 occurred 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), and the Philippines (1978).
In 1989, the World Bank adopted EIA for significant development projects, in which a borrower country had to undertake an EIA under the Bank’s supervision.
Strategic environment assessment
Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) refers to the systematic analysis of the environmental effects of development policies, plans, programs, and other proposed strategic actions.
It takes place at earlier stages of the decision-making cycle and considers a broad range of potential alternatives.
SEA represents a proactive approach to integrating environmental considerations into the higher levels of decision-making.
History of Environmental Impact Assessment in India
The EIA was first used during 1976-77 in India when the Planning Commission asked the Department of Science and Technology to examine the river-valley projects from an environmental angle.
- This was subsequently extended to cover those projects, which required the approval of the Public Investment Board.
- 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 (MoEF), under the Environmental (Protection) Act 1986, promulgated an EIA notification making Environmental Clearance (EC) mandatory for expansion or modernization of any activity or for setting up new projects listed in Schedule 1 of the notification.
In 2006, The MoEF notified new EIA legislation making 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 2006 legislation had 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.
In 2020, a draft notification on EIA 2020 was issued to consolidate all the 55 amendments and 230 office memorandums issued since 2006.
EIA Process in India
The Environmental Protection Rules, 1986 impose certain restrictions on the construction/ expansion/ modernization of specific projects without prior approval from the Central, State, or Union Territory level Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (EIAA) constituted under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
The rules categorize the projects into two categories- A and B based on the magnitude of their scale and impact on the natural and artificial resources.
- The projects belonging to Category A require approval from the Ministry of Environment and Forests on behalf of the Central Government, on the advice of an Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), constituted by the Central Government for this specific purpose. For example- Construction or Expansion of Ports, harbours, airports, nuclear power, related projects, Primary metallurgical industries (iron, steel, copper, etc), individual projects, etc.
- Projects and Activities falling under Category B require the approval of a State EIAA, based on the advice of a State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC), constituted under the said notification.
Advantages of EIA:
- Reduces cost and time of project implementation and design.
- Encourages environmentally sound projects which are compliant with environmental legislation in place.
- Protection of environment along with balanced usage of resources.
- Decision-makers are informed of the pros and cons of the projects in detail.
- EIA reports are a critical component of India’s environmental decision-making process
- It helps in predicting environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design.
- The EIA reports are also important to define measures that the project could take to contain or offset project impacts.
- EIA-based approvals for most projects also involve the process of conducting public hearings, so that who are likely to be affected can be taken on board before approving the project.
- It is a time-consuming process that may be depicted as withholding the pace of developmental activities.
- There is little public participation in actual implementation.
- Sometimes too focused on the scientific analysis and the real-time impact is neglected.
- Compliance monitoring after EIA is not carried out regularly.
- Impact assessment processes are in place and applied in many countries, yet biodiversity is often inadequately addressed.
- There is a need to better address biodiversity considerations in environmental impact assessments and strategic environmental assessments.
The EIA notification of 2006 was not good enough for ensuring the protection of the environment, while the 2020 draft is more in the favour of ease of doing business.
The government has to find ways to strike a balance between environmental and developmental progress. And the EIA should incorporate perspectives of multiple stakeholders in a balanced manner keeping environment as a priority.