EIA in India- Challenges and Shortcomings
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is considered a very effective assessment tool which anticipates the environmental impact of a developmental project on the environment taking into consideration a varied aspect of the ecology where the proposed project would be established.
The U.K. Department of Environment has defined EIA very comprehensively ‘‘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.’’ The term ‘Environmental Effects’ has been given the widest scope by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) as it publishes revamped guidelines time and again for different sectors, which outline the significant issues to be addressed in the EIA studies.
The issues range from the impact of the project proponent on the air quality to its socio-economic effect. It also considers the impact on the fauna and flora; breeding and nesting grounds of the wildlife. These factors give the process of EIA a multi-dimensional facet, implementation of which would enable matrimony between development and the environment however this poses to be the biggest challenge in the Indian scenario.
Environment is a multi-disciplinary subject therefore a horde of agencies are involved in collection of environmental data however there is no singular authority or organization that keeps track of these developments and records them. This leads to no enhancement in the quality of environmental data and thus bringing stagnancy to the quality of the EIAs. Further, the lack of monitoring also leads to questionable EIAs with false and incomplete data.
The EIA process requires public hearings in certain developmental projects for the participation of people residing in the vicinity of the proposed projects. These hearings are often staged or held so inconspicuously that the people never hear about them to raise their objections and before they know it the project proponent acquires an Environmental Clearance!
There is also an excessive sense of disregard for the knowledge of indigenous people is a vital source of important data with respect to geographical challenges and impact of project on the same. They are often excluded from the process of EIA’s which is often the cause of disbelief among the people leading to conflicts in the later stages.
Fraudulent EIA reports, staged public hearings and unscrupulous environmental clearances is only the tip of the iceberg. There are diverse challenges and loopholes in the execution of the esteemed EIA process. It is highly debatable whether in India it has succeeded as an ideal anticipatory mechanism allowing measures that ensure environmental compatibility in our quest for socio-economic development or has it failed due to poor implementation.
(The author is a digital editor at Gati Foundation)