By Mr. VIGNESH BASKARAN
In the current era, protecting the environment has become the concern of both National and International community. Earlier the countries were only concentrating on the industrialisation and economic development and ignored the environment completely. However, the current global warming and climate change have alarmed the national and international communities to shift from plain economic development to sustainable development which is a mixture of economic development and environmental protection. Environmental Impact Assessment is one the main components of the sustainable development which thrives to protect the environment from adverse impacts. Almost all the countries have started advocating about the sustainable development but the question arises whether they are sticking on to the principles of the sustainable development? Even India has been a signatory to all the International conventions relating to environment and has passed numerous legislations to protect and conserve environment. One of the most important legislation is the Environment Protection Act, 1986. The Government has made the Environmental Impact Assessment notification based on the Act. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC) have recently published the draft EIA notification which has raised concerns. In this article, the author would be examining the procedure for conducting EIA and the issues with the draft EIA notification 2020.
2.MEANING AND DEFINITION OF ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT
U.K. Department of Environment defined EIA as ‘‘The term ‘environmental assessment’ describes the technique and process by which the information about the environmental effects of the project is collected both by the developer and other sources and taken into account by the planning authority informing their judgement whether the development should go ahead.’’[i]
The International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) defines an EIA as ‘‘The process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made.’’[ii]
The EIA was first implemented by US via National Environmental Policy Act from 1969. In India, the EIA came into practice from 1977-78 with the evaluation of the river valley projects. Later it was also extended to mining industries, thermal power, port and harbours, atomic power, rail and road highways, bridges airport and communications, etc.The Rio Declaration adopted various principles; one among them was the adoption of Environmental Impact Assessment in the National Initiatives to assess the impact of the projects undertaken[iii]. Later In 1994, the government passes a Notification which listed 30 projects which required environmental clearance from the central government. Later it included public hearing as an aspect of EIA process. The project proponent was obliged to submit the Environment Management Plan to the MOEFCC. Later it was modified by 2006 Notification.
4.PROCEDURE OF EIA
Environmental Impact Assessment consists of 4 stages namely: Screening, Scoping, Public Consultation and Appraisal followed by grant or rejection of clearance and monitoring of the project[iv].
The EIA notification, 2006 makes mandatory the Environmental Clearance for the new projects and the modifications[v]. It categorizes the projects into two, Category A and B. category A has to get the clearance from the MOEFCC and category B from the SEIAA[vi].
(1) Screening This stage the State Level Expert Appraisal committee will scrutinize the application as to whether the project requires environmental studies for preparation of EIA for its appraisal and grant of clearance. The projects requiring EIA report are categorised as B1 and has to go to next process. B2 will not require EIA report.
(2) ScopingThe Expert Appraisal committee in A and State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) in B1 will determine the Terms of reference addressing all relevant information to be in the EIA report. The Project proponent will prepare the draft EIA and will publish it.
(3) Public Consultation Public consultation has two components namely Public Hearing and obtaining responses. The applicant will make the project report and the EMP available for the public scrutiny. The Notice of the public hearing shall be published in the public hearing and after 30 days of time the public hearing shall take place. The public hearing shall be conducted in the close place near the site SPCB/UTPCB will conduct the public hearing. The panel for public hearing shall be District Magistrate assisted by a representative of SPCB in the conduct of public hearing. After the completion of the Public Consultation, the Final EIA report is submitted to the concerned authority[vii].
(4) Appraisal The appraisal of the project shall be done by the Expert Appraisal Committee. The Appraisal committee shall submit the recommendation and reason for rejection or approval of the Project to the concerned authority within 60 days of the receipt of the Final EIA report.
The concerned Authority shall pass an order for the grant or rejection of the Environmental Clearance within 45 days (i.e., Total of 105 days from the receipt of the Final EIA report)[viii]. Later there will be Post Clearance Monitoring by way of submission of compliance report every half early[ix].
5.DRAWBACKS IN DRAFT EIA NOTIFICATIONS 2020
The MOEFCC have published a draft EIA notification 2020 for public comments. The various drawbacks in the draft are
40 different types of projects are completely exempted from the prior environmental clearance procedure[x].
The Timeframe for conducting public hearing have been reduced from 30 days to 20 days. Amidst the pandemic the public consultation is not properly taking place. the Government have already granted EC to various mining projects inside the Wild life sanctuaries without conducting public Consultation. So, reducing the time frame further would cause further detriment to the environment.
Vague Interpretation of Public consultation in the draft notification[xi]. One of the major principles under Environmental jurisprudence is that there should be increase in public participation so as to enhance the accountability of the government.
Restricted information is only made available to the public consultation[xii] thus favouring private entities.
Certain projects are to be listed as the strategic planning in the interest of National Security which will be out of the Environmental Clearance Procedure[xiii].
The notification only imposes compensation If the project proponent has not adhered to the notification. So, there is a monetisation of environmental crime violating the basic principles of the environmental jurisprudence.
The compliance report has to be submitted only once in a year which was earlier half yearly.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India and Ors.[xiv], has held that the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle are components of sustainable development. However, the draft notification completely ignores these principles. Advocating about the sustainable development has become common fashion in the governmental activity but implementing it is degrading. The EIA process has to be further strengthened instead of being diluted. There should be a specific authority to deal with EIA who is completely autonomous in nature. And the government has to work on the reforms to protect the environment and not to deplete it.
[i]Dibya Jyoti Kalita, Environment Impact Assessment in India: An Appraisal, RESEARCH GATE, (Jul. 21, 2020), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311351409_ENVIRONMENTAL_IMPACT_ASSESSMENT_IN_INDIA_EIA_AN_APPRAISAL/link/5842725d08ae2d2175626336/download. [ii] Ibid. [iii] Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, principle 17, Jun. 14, 1992, 31 ILM 874 (1992). [iv] Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, Clause 7, S.O 1533 (2006). [v] Ibid, clause 2. [vi] Ibid, Clause 4. [vii] Ibid, Appendix III. [viii] Ibid, Clause 8. [ix] Ibid, clause 10. [x] Draft Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, Clause 7 (2020). [xi] Ibid, clause 14(c). [xii] Ibid, Clause 17(4). [xiii] Ibid, 5(7). [xiv] Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India and Ors., (1996)5 S.C.C. 647.