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EIA 2020 a boon or bane?

India is one of the biggest countries in this world and the mega biodiversity region. The EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) was implemented to protect the environment. The EIA was implemented to prevent the environment. According to the EIA 2006, if any person thought that the factory in their area pollutes the environment. Then, he or she can approach the court to claim that the factory should be closed. But the EIA 2020 has changed this situation.

According to the EIA 2020, the people cannot approach the court even though the factory in that area pollutes the environment, only the pollution control board can make a claim in the court. This makes people raise their eyebrow. This is a democratic country, every people can have a right to raise their voice against the violation.

In this paper, I have governed the evolution of EIA i.e., how EIA is implemented in India and the objectives of EIA and also the methods to carry out the EIA. There are four types of EIA and I have governed all the four types and clearly explained about it. The first EIA was implemented in 1994 and then the next one in 2006 and then the next one in 2020. I have analysed the pros and cons of these laws and well explained them. I have also explained the objectives, salient features and the screening of the EIAs. Hence, this paper helps the readers to learn about EIA.

Introduction:
UNEP defined the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a tool to understand the social, economic and environmental impacts of a project prior to decision-making. Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is a step by step process of evaluation, identification, management and monitoring of the potential impacts of proposed projects on the environment of the local areas. Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process which sets a legal framework for regulating industrial/infrastructural activities.

It prevents the industrial/ infrastructure projects from being approved if they are unfavourable to the environment. In simple terms it means the EIA is a planning tool for decision making regarding the starting of a proposed project based on the measured environment and social impact of the proposed activities. EIA gives an opportunity to minimize proposed environment damages.

The main important purpose of EIA is to give information regarding the impact of the project on cultural, environmental, social, ecological and economic components of the project area to the decision-makers for decision making and policy transformation. EIA works on the principle of sustainable development to ensure nil or minimum environmental degradation due to the proposed project and it also takes into account the short term, medium-term and long term effects on the ecology, demography and environment of the local area.

The 20th century has been regarding the century of overall growth and revolutions.

The EIA is formulated to face against the following challenges these are:

  1. Environmental safety
  2. Agriculture production
  3. Increased pollution due to anthropogenic activities
  4. Environmental destruction and ecological imbalance
  5. Rapidly increase population
  6. Sustainable development
  7. Increase industrialization and urbanization
These are all the problems and the main impact on the 20th century. So the EIA has faced the challenges.

Evolution of EIA:

Primarily the EIA was introduced in the USA in the early 1970s and with the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 1969. And the other developed countries like Canada, New Zealand and Australia. These countries followed the footsteps of the USA and started the EIA. And the further strength and the efforts of the World Bank have adopted EIA in 1989. The main strength of EIA comes from the Rio Earth Summit 1992. The Rio of the three documents played a vital role in the consolidation of EIA. These are agenda 21, article 14 and principle 17.
  1. Agenda 21 of chapter 8 is titled integrating environment and development in decision-making.
  2. Article 14 is titled impact assessment and minimizing the adverse impact of the convention on biological diversity.
  3. The principle 17 of the Rio declaration on development and environment states that:
    “environmental impact assessment, as a national thing, shall be undertaken for the proposed activity that is likely to have a significant adverse impact on the subject of the decision of the competent national authority and the environment”.

In Environmental Impact Assessment, the India experience began 20 years back. The planning commission asked the department of science and technology to examine the river-valley projects from an environmental angle and it started from 1976 to 1977. Till 1994, the environmental clearance from the central government was a lack of legislative support and administrative decision. In the year of 1994, 27 January, the union ministry of environment and forests, under the environment protection act 1986, promulgated the EIA making the environmental clearance mandatory for modernization of activities for setting up the new projects list on schedule 1 of the notification.

Objectives of EIA:

Some basic objectives of EIA are:

  1. Identify social, economic and political environmental impacts of proposed activities
  2. Considering the environmental factors of the decision-making process of a project
  3. To promote sustainable development through environmental management plans by either mitigation measures or alternatives.
  4. Public participation in the decision making of the establishing of proposed activities
  5. To take steps at initial stages to minimize adverse environmental impacts

Methods to carry out EIA:

Some of the methods available to carry out EIAs can be divided into the industry and general specific assessment methods as described below:
Industrial products:
Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) this method used to measure and identify the impact of industrial products on the environment, and LCA assesses the environmental impacts which are associated with all the stages of the product life from raw material extraction to its final recycling or disposal.

The impact assessment objectives of LCAs take into consideration environmental concerns by:
  1. Evaluate the environmental impacts associated with identified releases and inputs
  2. Making an inventory of inputs in terms of energy, raw materials and natural resources and the release of pollutants in the environment
  3. The interpreting results to help to make a decision

Types of EIA:

The EIA has been clarified into four types, these are:
  1. Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)
    The strategic environmental assessment is the analysis of environmental effects of plans, programs and developmental policies, and the purpose of SEA is to assist in sound environmental decision making by improvement over the environmental impact assessment.
     
  2. Regional EIA
    EIA in the context is focused on regional planning. It integrates the economic and environmental concerns of particular religions due to its development planning.
     
  3. Sectoral EIA
    It refers to EIA in specific sectors like airports, townships, thermal power, mining, nuclear power plants etc. It helps to address the specific environmental problems encountered in implementing and planning sectoral development projects.
     
  4. Project level EIA:
    It refers to the environmental impacts of developmental activity in isolation. It specifically targets only one development activity and does not effectively integrate the cumulative efforts of development in the region.

Environmental impact assessment 1994:

In India, the Environment Impact Assessment was started in 1976-77. To examine the river valley project from an environmental angle the environmental impact assessment was adopted from the U.S. Until 1994, getting environment clearance from the Central Government is an administrative one. On Jan 27, 1994, the union ministry of environment and forests under the environmental (protection) act 1986 officially announced the Environmental Clearance (EC) is a mandatory one for expansion or modernization of any project listed in schedule 1of the notification.

The environmental clearance process consists of four stages. They are screening stage, scoping stage, public consultation and appraisal stage. The EIA 1994 notification required prior environmental clearance certificate for 32 categories and the Environmental clearance was granted based on investment criteria (it was originally 50 crores and it is up to 100 crores) except for mining projects.

The ministry of environment, forests and climate change have the power to notify the Environmental Impact Assessment notification under the Environmental (Protection) Act 1986. Under section 3 of the Environmental Protection Act (EPA)1986, the Central Government takes all necessary measures and actions to protect and improve the quality of the environment and also prevent and control environmental pollution.

To achieve this objective, the Central Government can abrogate the projects which bring impact to an environment and local population. The objective of the notification was to develop the industrialization process after considering the social and environmental impact from the project. The notification made it clear that all the projects under schedule 1 of the notification which needs environmental clearance and also stated the projects which have been exempted from environmental clearance and public hearing.

The amendment of 1994 notification in 1997 clearly stated that public hearing is mandatory for environmental clearance and public hearing should be conducted by state pollution control boards before the projects were sent to the ministry of environment, forests and climate change for obtaining environmental clearance. The notification also made provision for constituting an expert committee for EIA as per guidelines of schedule 3.

The expert committee was officially called the Impact Assessment Agency (IAA). The experts of impact assessment agency review the documents and then submit them to the ministry of environment and forests for environmental clearance. The experts in the committee may reject the project due to insufficient data; it is made within thirty days from the date of submission of the proposal.

The proponent may reapply the project if it was rejected due to lack of data. There are several changes made in the original notification 1994. The EIA notification 1994 was amended 12 times within the 11 years. Most of the amendments diluted the environmental clearance process and made it effective and strong. The environmental clearance for developmental projects by submitting the prescribed application form mentioned in schedule 2 Sub-Para 1(a) of Para 2 of environmental impact assessment 1994 from the ministry of environment and forests.

The environmental impact assessment 1994 comprises of several elements which includes:

  1. The Central Government is the clearance authority.
  2. Screening is based on capital investment and capacity
  3. There is no provision of consultation of scoping and scoping is not mandatory.
  4. There is no provision for the terms of reference for EIA
  5. The separate site clearance process is essential before EIA
  6. Before the public hearing, EIA studies should be completed.
  7. No provision for the dissemination of draft EIA report
  8. Local persons, environmental groups are participating in public consultation
  9. No objection certificate from SPCB is the mandatory one
  10. Not availability of final EIS to public
  11. Final EIS is appraised by EAC and MEF
  12. There is no time limit for each stage of EIA.
The environmental clearance granted by the Central Government shall be valid for five years for commencement of the project. Until the clearance certificate is obtained, no construction work or preliminary work should be started. If there are no comments from the IAA within the timeline, the project would be approved by project authorities.

Constraints in the EIA notification in 1994:

  1. No streamlined or standardized procedure
  2. No predictable or fixed schedule of appraisal meetings
  3. The requirement of unnecessary documents and details with an application
  4. Complex methods of screening with multiple categorizations
  5. EIA studies are of poor quality.
  6. The highly centralized system of clearance
  7. The cumbersome and long process leading to delays at different stages
  8. Technical issues at the time of various stages of appraisal

Environment impact assessment in 2006:

On September 14, 2006, the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) introduced the EIA notification of 2006. The objective of EIA notification 2006 was to address the limitation of the EIA notification 1994. So the notification process started in 2005. In these drafting, notification was placed on the MoEF website comments and nearly one year was sought from the public. In these comments, the response from organizations and several groups were received.

The environment management capacity building technical assistance project of the World Bank, the central government for re-forming implementation and investment approvals procedures and not for EIA was set up by the Govindarajan Committee. The main important purpose of the committee was to develop strategies for direct attract for foreign investment into the country. This committee observed the environment clearance process as one of the major hurdles in an investment project. This committee recommends that to attract investment in the different sectors, hurdles related to the clearance process need to be eased.


Objectives and salient features of EIA notification 2006:

The objective of EIA notification 2006 is to remove the constraints of the EIA notification 2006.

It was published with some following objectives:

  1. To incorporate the necessary environment safeguards at the planning stage.
  2. To involve stakeholders in the public consultation process.
  3. To formulate a decentralized, transparent and efficient regulatory mechanism.

The salient features of the EIA notification 2006

  1. More number of projects within the purview of the environment clearance process
  2. No categorization of projects based on investment
  3. Capacity or size of the project determines whether it is cleared by the state or central government.
  4. Attempt to decentralize power to the state government
  5. Provision to create an expert panel, the environment appraisal committees at the state level.
  6. Introduction about scoping, which was missing in the earlier notification.
  7. Introduction of the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the projects was decided by the expert committees
  8. Powers of the expert committees to visit the site, meet experts to decide the ToR and hold a public consultation.
  9. The process of consultation has been divided into the public hearing for local people and submission in writing from other interested parties.
  10. Clear mention of the appraisal process
  11. Reduction in time required for the entire environment clearance process.

Screening, scoping and appraisal committees:

The same Expert Appraisal Committees (EACs) at the SEACs hereinafter referred to as the (SEAC) and (EAC) at the union or the state territory level shall scope, screen and appraise activities or projects. SEAC’s and EAC shall meet at least once every month.

Environment Impact Assessment 2020:

In this year, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF & CC) amended the EIA 2006, to make the EIA process more transparent and expedient.
But the new 2020 draft of EIA has been widely criticised for its problematic changes in rules. The 2020 draft of EIA allows post facto clearance. It means any project could carry out their operations ever without environment clearance.

If a project is categorized as Strategic then no information related to such project shall be placed in the public domain. Projects concerning national defence and security are naturally categorized as Strategic. In the new EIA draft, there is a list of other projects exempted from assessment and considered as Strategic.
For example:
  • All inland waterways and national highway projects.
  • Building construction projects for an area up to 1, 50,000 sqm.
  • The projects about the roads and pipelines in border areas.
Under existing EIA 2006 norms, the above projects in the list should be screened by Expert Approval Committees. But in EIA 2020 norms it is placed under the Strategic category.
New EIA allows only the Government representatives or the project proponent to report against any violations and the citizens cannot complain against such violations.

The draft cuts down the notice period for public consultation from the current 30 days to 20 days. This questions the transparency and credibility of the assessment process.

Another change is, the project proponents are asked to submit only one annual report on compliance with conditions. But according to EIA 2006 norms, they have to submit two annual reports.

The EIA 2020 draft added a provision to regulate Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) and Island Coastal Regulatory Zone (ICRZ) properly. This provision is seen as a positive amendment since it will check the illegal tracking and smuggling.

The draft diluted the regulations over industrial and development practices which may cause negative impacts on the environment.


What is the Aarhus Convention?

The Aarhus Convention, adopted by the United Nation Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) on 25th June 1998, establishes the number of rights of the public in matters of the environment. They are as follows:
  • Every men and women have the right to access environmental information.
  • The public has the right to participation in environmental decision making.
  • The right to access to justice to challenge the public decision with respect to the above-mentioned rights

Aarhus convention specifies that sustainable development can be achieved only when the involvement of stakeholders, government accountability and the environmental protections are interconnected and the interaction between public and public representatives should take place in a democratic context. This shows that the public domain should be given a major role in decision making in matters of environmental protection. But the newly drafted EIA 2020 exempts the public domain in many important matters.

The importance of EIA and its stringent impositions can be realised through recent incidents such as the LG polymer plant in Visakhapatnam and the blow and fire at the Oil India Limited (OIL) in Assam. The provisions of EIA should contain strict rules and restrictions to safeguard the environment and to prevent any further disaster to take place in the future.

Conclusion:
It is the duty of the government to protect the people and also to control the environment so as not to be polluted. The EIA 2020 is opposed to these and it is not good for our country. Many people have raised their voices against the EIA 2020 that it should not be implemented. Many NGOs have filed a suit against the EIA 2020 in the court and it is still pending.

We shall hope that we will get the good news in that case. It was suggested that the government should ask the opinion of the people about the EIA 2020 and to decide according to the opinion of the people. It was also suggested that the government should correct the EIA 2020, that every citizen can approach the court against the factory if the factory pollutes the environment. Hence, we can make a good environment for future generations.

Written By:
  1. B. Sandeep Harish, III year of B.A.,LL.B., The Central Law College, Salem
    E-mail: [email protected], Ph no: 8110067837
  2. M.Vanmathi, III year of B.A.,LL.B., The Central Law College, Salem
    E-mail: [email protected], Ph no: 6383081986

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