Topic: General Studies 2,3:
- Environment Conservation
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
Environment Impact Assessment(EIA) – Part 2
Click here for Part I
Did You Know?
- In the Samarth Trust Case, the Delhi high court had considered EIAs- a part of participatory justice in which the voice is given to the voiceless and it is like a Jan Sunwai, where the community is the jury.
- The EIA process is an outcome of the 1992 Rio Declaration, which says that environmental issues are best handled through the participation of all concerned citizens and that states must provide an opportunity to citizens to participate in decision-making processes.
Shortcomings of EIA Process
- Exclusion: There are several projects with significant environmental impacts that are exempted from the notification either because they are not listed in schedule I, or their investments are less than what is provided for in the notification
- Inadequate capabilities: Lack of trained EIA professionals often leads to the preparation of inadequate and irrelevant EIA reports
- Public Consultation: Public comments are not considered at an early stage, which often leads to conflict at a later stage of project clearance.
- Neglect of indigenous knowledge: The data collectors do not pay respect to the indigenous knowledge of local people.
- Communication issues: Most reports in English and not in the local language. Hence, local people do not understand the intricacies of the report
- Poor review or monitoring: EIA review is not upto the marks. The review agency called Impact Assessment Agency (IAA) lacks inter-disciplinary capacity
- Corruption: There are so many cases of fraudulent EIA studies where erroneous data has been used, same facts used for two totally different places etc.
- Distorted Focus: The focus of EIA needs to shift from utilization and exploitation of natural resources to conservation of natural resources.
- Exempt Categories: For defence and national security installations, the EMP (Environment Management Plan) are often kept confidential for political and administrative reasons.
- Considered as impediment to the ease of doing business: Industries and business interests have long regarded EIA as a thorn in their side increasing their transaction cost and complicating the business process
Key provisions of 2020’s Draft EIA Notification and its criticism
1. Creation of an ex-post-facto clearance route
- It means that the clearances for projects can be awarded even if they have started construction or have been running phase without securing environmental clearances.
- This also means that any environmental damage caused by the project is likely to be waived off as the violations get legitimised i.e. the project proponent can enter an assessment procedure, with some minor fines for the violations
- It is the violation of “precautionary principle”
2. Diluted Public Consultation Process
- The draft 2020 notification shortens the time period from 30 days to 20 days for the public to furnish responses on the project.
- For project-affected people, who are frequently forest dwellers or otherwise do not have access to information and technology, this will make it harder to put forth representations.
- Public hearings without informed citizenry would not be meaningful and hence the whole EIA process would lack credibility.
3. Monitoring requirements have been reduced.
- The draft EIA notification halves the frequency of reporting requirements from every six months to once a year and extends the validity period for approvals in critical sectors such as mining.
- Certain irreversible environmental, social or health consequences of the project could go unnoticed because of the extended reporting time
4. Scope of the EIA regime is set to shrink
- Through the draft notification, the central government gets the power to categorise projects as “strategic.”
- Once a project is considered as strategic, the draft notification states that no information related to such projects shall be placed in the public domain.
- Violations can only be reported suo motu by the project proponent, or by a government authority, appraisal committee, or regulatory authority. This is against the principles of natural justice.
- Further, the draft notification states that the new construction projects up to 1,50,000 square metres (instead of the existing 20,000 square metres) do not need “detailed scrutiny” by the Expert Committee, nor do they need EIA studies and public consultation.
- Industries that previously fell under the categories that required a full assessment have been downgraded. This means that projects could now be proposed in dangerously close proximities of boundary of protected and eco-sensitive zones.
5. On a positive note, the 2020 draft notification has a clause dedicated to definitions to several terms related to EIA. It may be beneficial in the sense that it consolidates the EIA rules and has the potential of alleviating some ambiguity in the present law.
Consequences of diluting EIA process
- Against democratic norms: For affected communities, where shifts in the local environment can threaten livelihoods, flood a valley or destroy a forest, public consultation is a referendum on existential threats
- Increases vulnerability to disasters: A deadly gas leak at LG Polymers’ Visakhapatnam plant in May 2020 killed 12 people and harmed hundreds. What came to light after the disaster was that the plant had been operating without a valid environmental clearance for decades.
- Instead of reducing the time for public consultation, government should focus on ensuring access to information as well as awareness about the whole EIA process.
- In order to improve ease of doing business, the government should solve the problems of bureaucratic delays, complex laws and lengthy dispute resolution.
- Along with the EIA, we also need Social impact assessment to achieve sustainable development in true sense.
Connecting the dots:
- Polluter Pay principle
- Sustainable Development Goals