UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-3- Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
EIA – purpose and its implementation in India
Purpose of EIA:
- Around the world, legislative interventions mandating EIAs began to burgeon in the late 1960s.
- The basic credo of these measures was to ensure that the state had at its possession a disinterested analysis of any development project and the potential impact that it might have on the environment.
- The purpose of the EIA process is to inform decision-makers and the public of the environmental consequences of implementing a proposed project. The EIA document itself is a technical tool that identifies, predicts, and analyzes impacts on the physical environment, as well as social, cultural, and health impacts.
- It explains and compares the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed activity and its modifications, including its variants, even in comparison with “no action”;
- It is used to identify measures which prevent pollution of the environment, mitigate the environmental pollution or prevent damaging the environment.
- It helps in acquiring expert supporting documentation for issuing a decision on the permit of activity and its modification under special regulations.
EIA and India:
- It took India, though, until 1994 before it notified its first set of assessment norms, under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
- This policy mandated that projects beyond a certain size from certain sectors — such as mining, thermal power plants, ports, airports and atomic energy — secure an environmental clearance as a precondition to their commencement.
- But the notification was subject to regular amendments and diluted the EIA principles.
- In 2006, a new EIA programme was conceived.
- There was a belief that the 1994 system hindered speedy growth.
- The new draft attempted to decentralise the process.
- It increased the number of projects that required an environmental clearance.
- It also created appraisal committees at the level of both the Centre and States, the recommendations of which were made a qualification for a sanctioning.
- The programme also mandated that pollution control boards hold a public hearing to glean the concerns of those living around the site of a project.
- But, in practice, the 2006 notification also proved regressive.
- However, the course retained some opacity.
- The final EIA report, was not made available to the public; the procedure for securing clearances for certain kinds of projects was accelerated; and there was little scope available for independent judicial review.
- The clearances were challenged; the courts upheld the views of the assessment authorities.
- In the process, EIAs, far from serving as a bulwark for environmental justice, came to be regarded as a bureaucratic exercise.
Current Draft EIA:
- As many campaigners have highlighted, the new draft is riddled with problems.
- It enables a sweeping clearance apparatus to a number of critical projects that previously required an EIA of special rigour.
- Earlier, where some industries require expert appraisal under the existing 2006 notification, they will, under the new notification, be subject to less demanding processes.
- These include aerial ropeways, metallurgical industries, and a raft of irrigation projects, among others.
- The new proposal does not strengthen the expert appraisal committees on which so much responsibility is reposed.
- It also does away with the need for public consultation for a slew of different sectors. This negates a redeeming feature of the 2006 notification.
- But, most egregiously, the proposal opens up a window for securing post-facto clearances.
- That is, companies which have commenced a project without a valid certificate will be allowed to regularise their operations by paying a fine.
- A mere strengthening of the existing EIA norms will not by itself be sufficient.
- We need a renewed vision for the country; one that sees the protection of the environment as not merely a value unto itself but as something even more foundational to our democracy. To that end, we must begin to imagine a future where, our ecological and egalitarian projects can fuse together.
- For this to happen, there is a need to see ourselves as not distinct from the environment that we live in, but as an intrinsic part of it.
- Under such a model, our economic solutions will have to necessarily subsume a commitment to our natural surroundings. To achieve this broader vision we will need deeper thinking, greater political initiative, and a leap of faith.
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