Environmental Impact Assessment in India
Written By: Naveen Talawar
Environmental impact assessment is a process of predicting and evaluating future changes caused by the proposed project, plans, and policies to the quality of the environment. It is regarded as the most significant process in the realm of environmental protection and it attempts to reconcile developmental values and environmental values with sustainable development as an aim.
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.
The concept of Environmental Impact Assessment started in the USA in 1969, the development of the concept of the EIA was started with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) which provided EIA’s for federal projects.
In India, the EIA began over 20 years back, it was started in the year 1977-78 when the Department of Science and Technology took up an Environmental Appraisal of River Valley Projects, and subsequently, various other projects were also brought under the purview of EIA. Thereafter there was a broad move towards institutionalizing environmental procedures by enacting the Environmental Protection Act 1986, the central government through Act issued a draft notification in 1992 laying down certain norms and procedures for impact assessment, and further in 1994, the first EIA notification was issued which was heavily influenced by 1988 conference titled “ International Conference on Environmental Impact Analysis for the Developing Countries” held at New Delhi. And in 2006, the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) notified new Environmental impact assessment legislation.
It is the procedure to obtain clearance from the government for the installation and modification of certain projects. It is mandatory for those projects which can cause high environmental pollution. The purpose of such environmental clearance is to access the impact of the proposed project on the environment and people and to try to minimize the impact of the proposed project.
The Environmental (Protection) Act 1986, provides for an EIA notification making Environmental Clearance mandatory for expansion or modernization of any activity or for setting up new projects listed in Schedule 1 of the notification. The new Environmental impact assessment legislation in September 2006, makes it mandatory for various projects and industries including very small electroplating or foundry units to get environment clearance. The projects include mining, thermal power plants, river valley, infrastructure such as (road, highway, ports, harbors, and airports)
Environmental clearance procedure
A location for the proposed project must be selected, and after identifying the prospective site the project exponent makes the application for prior environmental clearance which must comply with the existing guidelines, if it does not comply with the guidelines then the proponent has to identify any other alternative site for the proposed project.
After the 2006 amendment the Environmental impact assessment cycle comprises the following stages:
Screening: During this process, the project plan is screened for the scale of investment, location, and type of development, etc. This process is only for the projects coming under the category needing state clearance. The new legislation decentralized the environmental clearance projects by categorizing the developmental projects in two categories,
Category A (National level appraisal).
Category B (State-level appraisal).,
Category A projects are appraised at the National level by Impact Assessment Agency (IAA) and the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) and it requires a mandatory environmental clearance, and hence they do not undergo a screening process. Category B projects are appraised at the state level by State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) and State Level Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC), this category undergoes a screening process. Category B is further classified into two types: category B1 projects which mandatory require EIA, and category B2 which are excluded from the complete EIA process.
During this stage, certain key and significant environmental issues will be identified. The agencies and the representatives concerned with the project are consulted at this stage.
It is a process by which the concerns of the local affected persons and others have their credible stake in the impacts of the project or activity which are ascertained to take into account all the material concerns in the project.
The documents submitted by the project proponent will be scrutinized by the disciplinary committee. The expert appraisal committee EAC and the state environmental appraisal committee SEAC make the appraisal of all the materials and evidence available after screening, scoping, and public consultation. If the conditions and thereafter the categorical recommendations are made to the regulatory authority.
In Lafarge Umiam Mining private limited v. Union of India, the supreme court of India recommended the establishment of a National Environmental Regulator to reform the existing environmental clearance mechanism and monitoring process under EIA. However, the government is critical of establishing such a regulator and no steps have been taken to implement the recommendation of the supreme court.
EIA notification 2020
The Draft EIA notification 2020 has been made by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change(MOEF&CC) intending to replace the existing EIA notification 2006 under the Environmental Protection Act,1986. This notification has removed several activities from the purview of the public consultation. And a list of projects has been included under category B2, expressly exempted from the requirement of an EIA.
The draft EIA notification provides power to the central government to constitute state level and district level regulatory authorities and expert committees inconsistent with the decentralization scheme and tilting the balance in favor of the center.
But this draft EIA notification 2020 received an abhorrent view by the environmentalists across the country as it provided time and liberty to project proponents while strategically keeping the public uninvolved. Some of the issues are as follows:
- Ex post facto environmental clearance.
- Defeats the purpose of public consultation.
- Reducing the number of compliance reports.
- Exclusion of projects
- Empowering the central govt. to declare certain projects as strategic may have adverse outcomes.
The primary problem in the implementation of the EIA process is that there is a lack of baseline information and even if the information exists it is either not in a useful form or reliable. The notifications of 1994, 2006, and the draft EIA of 2020 concerning environmental impact assessment are fairly inconclusive and need to be amended for the EIA to fulfill its objective.
- P.Leelakrishnan, Environmental Impact Assessment: Legal Dimensions, 34 JILI (1992) 541 available at https://www.scconline.com/Members/SearchResult.aspx
- Shivaji Bhattacharya, Environmental Impact Assessment: A Review, (2007) 3 NSLR 19 available at https://www.scconline.com/Members/SearchResult.aspx
- George Cyriac and Shatnik Sanjanwala, Environmental Impact Assessment in India: An Appraisal, 10 Stud Adv (1998) 74 available at https://www.scconline.com/Members/SearchResult.aspx
Student at Karnataka State Law University’s Law School