EIA full form is Environmental Impact Assessment. In simple terms, the meaning of EIA is that it is a process through which an environmental impact of a proposed development is evaluated. While undertaking Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), the inter-related socio-economic, cultural, and human-health impacts are considered. This topic is important from the IAS Exam perspective. Read on to know the following:
| What is Environmental Impact Assessment?
| History of EIA
| Process of EIA
|Current EIA Reports
|How to Read EIA for IAS
What is Environmental Impact Assessments?
It 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 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.
Evolution & History of EIA
EIA is termed as one of the best policy innovations in the 1900s. The main aim of EIA is to conserve the environment and bring out the best combination of economic and environmental costs and benefits. Read the below-mentioned points to understand the Environmental Impact Assessment evolution and history:
- The birth of EIA is dated back to the 1970s. In 1969, The USA had brought its first National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) 1969.
- The EIA was initially practised by developed nations but slowly it was also introduced in developing nations including India.
- Columbia and the Philippines are the earliest examples of developing nations who introduced EIA in their policies. Columbia brought it in 1974 while the Philippines in 1978.
- Worldwide, EIA is now practised in more than 100 countries. By the mid-1990s, some 110 countries applied EIA as a major environmental policy.
- In 1989, EIA was adopted as the major development project by the World Bank.
Check the image below to have an idea of major developments around Environmental Impact Assessment in history:
Objectives of Environmental Impact Assessment
- Identifying, predicting, and evaluating economic, environmental, and social impacts of development activities.
- Providing information on the environmental consequences for decision making.
- Promoting environmentally sound and suitable development by identifying appropriate alternatives and mitigation measures.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Process
The table below will mention the EIA Process in brief:
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Process
|Details in Brief
|Which projects need a full or partial assessment study is decided in this stage
|Assessment & Evaluation of Impacts and Development of Alternatives
|Environmental impacts of the proposed project are analyzed and light is thrown upon the alternatives present to such projects
|EIA Report also called Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
|An environmental management plan (EMP) and also a non-technical summary of the project’s impact is prepared for the general public in this stage
|The fate of the project is decided. Whether the project is to be given approval or not and if it is to be given, under what conditions
|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
- EIA is a good tool for prudent environment management.
- 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.
Current EIA Reports – India
EIA Notification 2020 draft has been made public. Once the EIA Notification 2020 will be published in the Official Gazette, it will replace EIA notification 2006. EIA has been in the news following EIA notification 2020 was drafted as one of the amendments will be the removal of public consultation from several activities (Put under Category B2).
Here are a few important terms/agencies concerning EIA notification 2020 which aspirants should further read about:
- Accredited Environment Impact Assessment Consultant Organization (ACO)
- Central Pollution Control Board
- Certificate of Green Building
- Corporate Environment Responsibility
- Eco-Sensitive Area/ Eco-Sensitive Zone
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) to collect, collate, 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 (EIA) Notification, 2006
The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006, is the governing legal instrument to grant green clearance for the establishment or expansion of an industry on the basis of the potential environmental impact of the project. The notification in recent times has been revised several times since its introduction in 1994.
- While the 2006 notification is flexible and can adjust to the changing times, it has been exploited by governments, who have made efforts to dilute its provisions and norms to make it easier to establish and expand industries that generate pollution.
- This has been achieved through the introduction of office memorandums, which are changes to the notification that do not require public consultation.
- In the past five years, 110 such changes have been introduced, some of which have been challenged in the National Green Tribunal.
- The year 2022-23 saw the highest number of changes introduced in the 2006 notification in the last five years.
Some of the major changes over the years are:
Rating system for state environment impact assessment authority (SEIAA):
- The Indian government introduced a star-rating system for state environment impact assessment authorities (SEIAAs) to improve their efficiency and accountability.
- However, the system seems to penalize them for following the 2006 EIA notification, which regulates the clearance of projects.
The faulty compliance module:
- The MoEFCC released a notification on June 14, 2022, introducing a compliance module for projects that have received environmental clearance under the 2006 EIA notification.
- The module aims to simplify the compliance and monitoring process and prevent delays in the submission of compliance reports to regulatory authorities.
- However, it is unclear whether the reports and supporting documents will be accessible to the public.
- Proponents upload the information on MoEFCC’s Parivesh portal using their unique credentials, which may not be publicly available.
Undermining the public hearing process:
- The process of public hearing involves public consultation, where comments on the draft EIA report are considered, and a gathering presided over by district officials to hear the concerns of stakeholders.
- However, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change issued an office memorandum in October 2021 allowing for a 20% expansion in production in the mining of minor minerals based only on public consultation, undermining the public hearing process.
- In addition, legacy mining cases granted environmental clearance under the 1994 EIA notification now only have to conduct public consultation, not follow the entire process of a public hearing.
- The public consultation process does not mandate the proponent to inform stakeholders via popular media about the project, its expansion or modification.
Extra details sought viewed as a burden:
- According to the 2006 EIA notification, the Central and state authorities responsible for granting environmental clearance to projects have the right to seek additional details from project proponents if necessary.
- However, an office memorandum issued by the MoEFCC in June 2021 directed authorities to refrain from asking for Extra Details Sought (EDS) and Additional Details Sought (ADS) that are not relevant to the project appraisal.
- This direction undermines the legitimacy of the experts nominated by the ministry for project appraisal.
Change in coal source without amendment:
- The ministry allowed coal thermal power plants to change their coal source without considering the potential increase in emissions resulting from the long-distance transport of coal from mines to the plants.
- The government’s directive aimed to increase India’s reliance on domestic coal and allowed power plants to change from one domestic source of coal to another without considering the environmental impact of long-distance transport of coal.
- Additionally, the ministry allowed for road transport of coal until the railway lines are laid in the area, diminishing the urgency to build railways to reduce emissions from coal transport.
Violation cases get recognition under the 2006 EIA notification:
- In December 2017, the MoEFCC added a provision to the 2006 EIA notification to grant “post-facto” clearance to projects that were in violation of the notification.
- This provision legitimizes projects that have already violated environmental laws and may lead to increased environmental degradation.
So, the recent developments in the environmental clearance process in India seem to be pushing for faster approvals at the cost of due diligence and public participation. It is important for the government to strike a balance between economic development and environmental protection while ensuring transparency, accountability and participation in the process.
Read about the environmental acts mentioned above in the linked articles below:
- Wildlife Protection Act of 1972
- Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981
- Biological Diversity Act, 2002
How to read EIA for IAS
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 UPSC Mains General Studies III and can be classified under the environment and economy also.
Aspirants can get the Environment preparation related articles in the table below:
|List of International Environment Conventions and Protocols
|Topic-Wise GS 3 Questions for UPSC Mains
|Environment Questions for UPSC Mains GS 3
|Environment Notes for UPSC
|Climate Change in India
|Forest Rights and Environmental Laws in India – Issues in News
|Tiger Conservation in India
|The Bhopal Gas Tragedy
Multiple Choice Question
Consider the following statements
- The EIA 2006 divides the projects into three categories. Category A projects are appraised at the national level by Impact Assessment Agency and the Expert Appraisal Committee, while Category B projects are appraised at the state level.
- The Main Participants Of EIA are those who propose the project, environmental consultants who prepare EIA on behalf of project proponents, Pollution Control Board (State or National), Regional Centre of the Ministry of Environment and Forest, the Impact Assessment Agency.
- The MoEF constituted the Western Ghats Experts Ecology Panel (WGEEP) in 2010 under the Chairmanship of Prof. Madhav Gadgil. The Panel submitted its report in 2011 but it was not made public immediately due to its stringent assessment of the condition of Western Ghats.MoEF set up the High-Level Working Group (HLWG) under the Chairmanship of Dr. Kasturirangan to study recommendations of WGEEP.
- EIA is essentially a process of evaluating the impact of a project, say mining, building an irrigation dam, a thermal power plant, etc. on human health, safety, environment along with socioeconomic and cultural impacts, prior to the decision-making.
Choose the correct answer from the below-given options
A) None of the above statements are correct
B) Only statements 1 and 4 are correct
C) Only statements 1 and 3 are correct
D) All the above statements are correct.
Refer to the links below for UPSC Preparation:
Frequently Asked Questions on Environmental Impact Assessment
Q 1. What is EIA?
Q 2. When did EIA start in India?
Q 3. Who is responsible for EIA in India?
Ans. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF), Government of India, under the Environmental (Protection) Act 1986, promulgated an EIA notification making Environmental Clearance (EC) mandatory for expansion or modernisation of any activity or for setting up new projects. This decision was taken on January 27, 1994.
Q 4. What is the main aim of EIA?
Ans. The main goal of EIA is to conserve the environment and bring out the best combination of economic and environmental costs and benefits.