UPSC Notes: Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse. EIA is basically a tool used to assess the positive and negative environmental, economic and social impacts of a project. This is used to predict the environmental impacts of a project in the pre-planning stage itself so that decisions can be taken to reduce the adverse impacts.

Objectives of Environmental Impact Assessment

  1. Identifying, predicting and evaluating economic, environmental and social impacts of development activities.
  2. Providing information on the environmental consequences for decision making.
  3. Promoting environmentally sound and suitable development by identifying appropriate alternatives and mitigation measures.

Environmental Impact Assessment process

The EIA process or stages is described below:

  1. Screening: this stage decides which projects need a full or partial assessment study.
  2. Scoping: this stage decides which impacts are necessary to be assessed. This is done based on legal requirements, international conventions, expert knowledge and public engagement. This stage also finds out alternate solutions that avoid or at least reduce the adverse impacts of the project. Alternate designs or sites that avoid or mitigate impact are investigated.
  3. Assessment & evaluation of impacts and development of alternatives: this stage predicts and identifies the environmental impacts of the proposed project and also elaborates on the alternatives.
  4. EIA Report: in this reporting stage, an environmental management plan (EMP) and also a non-technical summary of the project’s impact is prepared for the general public. This report is also called the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
  5. Decision making: the decision on whether the project is to be given approval or not and if it is to be given, under what conditions.
  6. Monitoring, compliance, enforcement and environmental auditing: monitoring whether the predicted impacts and the mitigation efforts happen as per the EMP.

Importance of Environmental Impact Assessment

  1. EIA is a good tool for prudent environment management.
  2. It is government-policy that any industrial project in India has to secure EIA clearance from the Environment Ministry before approval for the project itself.

Environmental Impact Assessment In India

  • EIA started in India in 1976-77 when the Planning Commission directed the Department of Science & Technology to assess the river valley projects from the point of view of the environment. This was extended for all those projects that required approval from the Public Investment Board.
  • Then, in 1986, the government enacted the Environment (Protec­tion) Act which made EIA statutory. The other main laws in this regard are the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act (1972), the Water Act (1974), the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act (1981), and the Biological Diversity Act (2002).
  • In 1982, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change set up the Environmental Information System (ENVIS) with the purpose of collecting, collating, storing, retrieving and disseminating information related to the environment sector. This serves as a web-based distributed network of subject-specific databases. The chief purpose of the ENVIS is to integrate all countrywide efforts to collect, store, disseminate and use environment-information for better managing environmental assessment activities.

Environment Impact Assessment is an important topic and concept under the environment section of the UPSC syllabus. This particular section is assuming greater significance in the UPSC exam because of the pertinent nature of the topics. These are also featured in the daily news with increased frequency. It is covered under General Studies III and can be classified under environment and economy also.

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