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Government has proposed a set of key updates to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Act, 2006  and has released a draft notification for the same.

What are some of the key changes sought?

  1. Categorization of Products

    1. The proposed changes in the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2020 talks about three categories based on spatial extent and impact on human health and natural and man-made resources.
    2. Earlier, 2006 notification categorizes all projects and activities broadly into two categories.
  2. Exemption

    1. It also says that no EIA report shall be required for the projects listed under Category ‘B2’  that includes all highway projects in border areas, building constructions, new and expansion projects in notified industrial estates.
  3. Scope of Public Hearing

    1. It seeks to reduce the time given to people for raising objections.
    2. In the 2006 act, the notice period was of 30 days, which has been proposed to reduce to 20 days.
    3. It also proposes to expedite the public hearing process in 40 days, as opposed to the existing norm of 45 days.
  4. Monitoring Frequency

    1. It has also been proposed to relax the monitoring frequency to once a year. 
    2. Authorities were earlier mandated to monitor projects for compliance with environmental norms every six months.
  5. Dealing with cases of Violations

    1. It has proposed to add a new section called “Dealing with violation cases”.
    2. The draft states that violations can be reported by the project proponent themselves, by a government authority, or by a committee appraising the projects. 
  6. Online Standard Terms of Reference

    1. The draft proposes to introduce the concept of generation of an online Standard Terms of Reference (ToR) where there is no examination of alternative sites involved.
    2. It will expedite the process of granting standard Terms of Reference.

What are the Impacts of such changes being proposed in the EIA Act?

  • Positive Impacts
    • With the proposed changes, the ministry has brought in clarity through definitions and pooling together all the amendments carried out so far. 
    • Also as a positive move, bridges and elevated roads would now come under the ambit of green assessment.
  • However, it has attracted criticisms too.
    • It is speculated that it may regularise large-scale environmental violations.
    • Concerning the proposal to lessen the time given to people for airing objections, it may pose institutional challenges as well as the quality of participation may suffer too.
    • It is also criticized on the ground that it accommodates many concerns of project proponents thus increasing the distance with project-affected people.

Environmental Impact Assessment

UNEP defines Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a tool used to identify the environmental, social and economic impacts of a project prior to decision-making. 

  • It aims to predict environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to suit the local environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers. 

The need for EIA:

  • Economic, social and environmental change is inherent to development. 
  • Whilst development aims to bring about positive change it can lead to conflicts. Every anthropogenic activity has some impact on the environment more often it has a negative impact on the environment than positive.that is why there is a need to harmonize development activities with environmental concerns.
  • The EIA process also serves an important procedural role in the overall decision-making process by promoting transparency and public involvement. 
  • The need to avoid adverse impacts and to ensure long term benefits led to the concept of sustainability.

The objective of EIA is 

  • To identify, predict and evaluate the economic, environmental and social impact of development activities 
  • To provide information on the environmental consequences for decision making and 
  • To promote environmentally sound and sustainable development through the identification of appropriate alternatives and mitigation measures.

Benefits of EIA:

  • Proposes modified designs to reduce environmental impacts
  • Identifies feasible alternatives
  • Predicts significant adverse impacts
  • Other benefits- Environmental assessment has many benefits, such as protection of the environment, optimum utilization of resources and saving of time and cost of the project. 
  • Identifies mitigation measures to reduce, offset, or eliminate major impacts
  • Engages and informs potentially affected communities and individuals
  • Influences decision-making and the development of terms and conditions.
  • Promoting community participation- Properly conducted EIA also lessens conflicts by promoting community participation, informing decision-makers, and helping lay the base for environmentally sound projects. 

Guiding principles of EIA:

2006 Notification

  • The MOEFCC notified new EIA  legislation in September 2006. The notification makes 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. 
  • However, unlike the EIA Notification of 1994, the 2006 legislation has put the onus of clearing projects on the state government depending on the size/capacity of the project.
  • Certain exemptions are- Environmental clearance for built-up areas from 1,50,000 to 3,00,000 sq. mtr. will be given by the State Level Authorities subject to EIA while the areas above 3,00,000 sq. mtr. will be approved and cleared by the Union Government. 
  1. Category A projects require mandatory environmental clearance and 
  2. Category B projects undergo a screening process and they are classified into two categories 

Category B1 projects that are mandatory require EIA.

Category B2 projects that do not require EIA.

 

Steps undertaken

Also readEnvironmental Clearance In India

Environment And Climate Change

Image Source: The Hindu