An Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment
Post the cold war, politics and popular rhetoric in the developing nations have been focused around developmental growth. For most people development is a positive change in their quality of life and environment. This in turn has become an endless pursuit for economic growth and infrastructural gains. The world till very recently had not paid heed to the cost of this model of development on the people and environment. Both environment and development are bound to be effected by each other hence we need a sustainable model of development. This model can be achieved through assessing and mitigating effects on the environment of any project through Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
Environmental Impact Assessment can be defined as a framework to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of a proposed project. It takes into account socio-economic, environmental and health related aspects into account. It is useful in giving shape to a project before decision making process as to mitigate any harmful environmental effects and find alternatives for the same. EIA is a step wise process which involves screening, scoping, studying past reports and public consultancy. Though EIA happens before the decision making step it does include proper monitoring of the project once it is finished on the ground level. The timeline of the process is as follows:
EIA was introduced by The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in the US in 1970’s and with gradual developments it became a mandatory tool for the World Bank when implanting any project. Other processes like Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) were also introduced in the framework. Increased attention to sustainable development brought more attention to EIA; subsequently other nations also adopted it. In India EIA was first used by the Planning Commission to monitor river valley projects in 1967.
Formally introduced in 1994 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 modernization of any activity or for setting up new projects listed in Schedule 1.Amendments by the MoEF in September 2006 made it mandatory for various projects such as mining, thermal power plants, river valley, infrastructure (road, highway, ports, harbors and airports) and industries including very small electroplating or foundry units to get environment clearance through EIA.
EIA in India has gone through massive transformation since it was launched but still many improvements can be made to increase its efficiency. In India there is a lack of reliable and timely data has been a major hold-up in reaping the benefits of EIA. There is no single agency which collects and disseminates data but a multitude of agencies further delaying the cause (Encylopedia, 2015). Another issue of concern is public consultation and public participation though being a mandate in EIA, it is often accused of being staged or not given primary importance (Naber, 2012). To make EIA a successful endeavor, streamlining of different agencies is a must which can provide quality and reliable data for long periods of time.
Further public participation at early stages should be promoted as per the EIA guidelines defined by MoEF. The goal of EIA is inculcate wholesome and sustainable development which is in line with the precautionary principle which states (IUCN 2004), “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, pre-cautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically”.