Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in India

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in India

In view of the colossal damage to environment by developmental activities people are now concerned about the environmental impact of developmental projects. Environmental Impact Assessment  (EIA) enables the decision makers to analyse the effect of developmental activities on the environment, if any well before the developmental project is implement. The goal of EIA is to ensure environmentally safe and sustainable development.

What is Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)?

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a tool to evaluate environmental impact of proposed developmental projects or programs and through which clearance is accorded after mitigation strategies are included in the plan. It is a study to evaluate and identify the predictable environmental consequences and the best combination of economic and environmental costs and benefits of the proposed project.

On the basis of EIA, an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) is prepared, which is a description of the means by which the environmental consequences as pointed out in the EIA will be mitigated. Together the whole draft is termed as EIA-EMP report.

The important aspects of EIA are:

  • Risk assessment,
  • Environmental management and
  • Post product monitoring.

EIA was introduced in India in 1978, with respect to river valley projects. Later the EIA legislation was enhanced to include other developmental sections.

The Environmental Impact Assessment Notification of 2006

The Environmental Impact Assessment Notification was issued on 14th September 2006 and mandated all developmental projects to abide by the country’s environmental laws. In furtherance of this goal, a clear demarcation was made between various categories of project and the authorizing agencies.

Category of Projects:

All projects and activities are broadly categorized in to two categories – Category A and Category B, based on the spatial extent of potential impacts and potential impacts on human health and natural and man made resources.

Category A Projects:

  • Mandatorily requires EIA

Category B Projects:

  • Category B1, projects (Mandatorily requires EIA).
  • Category B2 projects (Do not require EIA).

Appraisal & EIA Clearance of Projects

Environment Impact Assessment Notification of 2006 has decentralized the process of environmental clearance in following manner:

  • All projects or activities included as Category ‘A’ require prior environmental clearance from the Central Government in the MOEFCC on the recommendations of an Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC).
  • All projects or activities included as Category ‘B’ require clearance by State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA).
  • The SEIAA shall base its decision on the recommendations of a State or Union territory level Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC).
  • The EAC and SEAC shall be reconstituted after every three years. However, in absence of a duly constituted SEIAA or SEAC, a Category ‘B’ project shall be treated as a Category ‘A’ project;

The Environmental Impact Assessment Notification of 2006 stipulates “A State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority hereinafter referred to as the SEIAA shall be constituted by the Central Government under sub-section (3) of section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 comprising of three Members including a Chairman and a Member – Secretary to be nominated by the State Government or the Union territory Administration concerned.”

Hence, the same notification also directed the Central Government to establish State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority in states for EIA clearance of Category B projects.

State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA)

  • All Category B projects, which include projects with lesser size or capacity and smaller impacts than Category A, came under the purview of the State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA).
  • The SEIAA was further directed to base its decision, recommending or denying the environmental clearance, on the recommendations of a State or Union Territory Level Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC).

Process of EIA

The process of Environmental Clearance has four stages, namely:

  • Screening
  • Scoping
  • Public Hearing
  • Appraisal

Screening:

  • This is only for category B projects, as all category A projects are required to undergo EIA process.
  • For category B projects, the State or Union Territory Level Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) decides if project belongs to category B1 or B2.
  • B1 Category project require EIA while B2 category projects are exempted from EIA

Scoping:

  • Meant for projects belonging to category A & B1.
  • The Central Level Expert Appraisal Committee for category A & State Level Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) for category B1 determines comprehensive terms of reference for preparation of EIA report.

Public Hearing:

  • It is the process by which the concerns of local affected persons and others who have plausible stake in the environmental impacts of the project or activity are ascertained with a view to taking into account all the material concerns in the project or activity design as appropriate.
  • A public hearing committee conducts public hearing.
  • The committee has district collector as chairman, members including officials of pollution control board, representatives of Taluka, gram sabha.

Appraisal

  • Appraisal means the detailed scrutiny by the Expert Appraisal Committee or State Level Expert Appraisal Committee.
  • On conclusion of this proceeding, the EAC or SEAC concerned makes categorical recommendations to the regulatory authority concerned either for grant of prior environmental clearance on stipulated terms and conditions, or rejection of the application for prior environmental clearance, together with reasons for the same.

Draft EIA Notification 2020

Recently, Union Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MOEFCC), extended the deadline for public comments for draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020 by 45 days amidst the nationwide lockdown due to Covid 19 pandemic. The new deadline was posted as 30th June, 2020.

What is the Draft EIA Notification 2020 ?

This Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020 is set to replace and supersede the EIA Notification 2006, which is currently in use.

The draft notification is issued under the powers vested in the central government under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to take all such measures for “protecting and improving the quality of the environment.

According to the government, the new notification is being brought in order to make the process more transparent and expedient by the implementation of an online system, further delegation, rationalisation and standardisation of the process. However, the environmentalist claim that it will fundamentally change the environmental regulatory regime.

As per them, there are many alarming clauses in the draft notification including the concept of post facto clearance. The post-facto approval for projects means that the clearances for projects can be awarded even if they have started construction or have been running phase without securing environmental clearances. In 2017, post-facto clearance given to projects in Tamil Nadu was struck down by the Madras high court.

Additionally, the violations can only be reported by the project developer himself and/or government authorities. Not citizens or the civil society.

New construction projects up to 1,50,000 sq m do not need detailed scrutiny by an expert committee or EIA. Earlier it was 20,000 sq m. The draft notification provides for a reduction of the time period from 30 days to 20 days for the public to submit their responses during a public hearing for any application seeking environmental clearance.

For detailed Draft Notification, Click here.

Rajasthan Environment PDF

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