Environmental Impact Assessment – An introduction

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a tool, that is fast growing to be a useful and widely accepted tool in developmental projects to prevent/mitigate damage to the environment as much as possible.

As the name suggests, it is an all out study on all possible effects a project can have on the environment surrounding it, and the environment of places it is connected to in any direct way like rivers etc.

A project, especially large ones like the building of a structure in previously undeveloped land, mining activities etc will have huge implications on the surrounding ecology. Until 1994, in India, these implications were not considered at all. Post 1994, a landmark bill was passed by the Indian Government that made EIA studies before projects compulsory, and only after the study will an environmental clearance be given to the company handling the project. The project will not proceed until such a clearance is obtained.

It tries to study every possible aspect of the project and how it is going to affect the ecology. This is includes abiotic factors like the soil, geology, rivers, streams, groundwater, air and biotic implications like the effect it will have on local species (definitely won’t be a good one), of both plants and animals, it’s habit destruction, if any, disturbances in migration patterns etc.

Not only does it determine WHAT the effects will be, it tries to determine the EXTENT of the effects. By extent, I mean both the intensity as well as the temporal range. Because it’s one thing to figure out what is harming us, but we cannot decide what to do about it until we figure out how long it is likely to harm us.

The 5 steps of an EIA process

  • Screening: This determines whether EIA is required to be done for a project or not. The Govt. of India has categorized projects into Category A, B1 and B2. All projects that come under category A HAVE to undergo EIA before commencement. Category B1 projects are subject to a discussion on whether a study is required or not. Category B2 projects are given the option of skipping the EIA entirely. These are low impact projects.

    Scoping: This step determines the key impacts that the project is going to have. It’s a step that involves every stakeholder in the entire project; the project proponent, the govt. authorities, the locals.

  • Prediction: Once the key impacts are identified, a team of experts will proceed to figure out how and where these impacts will operate. Every permutation and combination is considered. This is probably the most creative step in the entire EIA study; it asks you to be imaginative about how a part of the project will impact your area, and what you can do to deal with it (more on this front in the next post).
  • Mitigation: Once the possible effects and their extent have been figured out, the experts then suggest ways to mitigate them. This process is very thorough; it involves suggestions for alternatives in methods, design, location, equipment used, scale etc.

    Now, the project can be underway (provided the recommendations are taken into consideration and all parties have agreed to the final proposal).

  • Monitoring: this is a post project step, which evaluates and compares how accurate the predictions where, how effective the mitigation steps were and if the project has produced any complications that were unforeseen. That is followed by more steps to reconsider options and further improve the mitigation steps.

It is refreshing to know that the developing world has recognized the potential to minimize negative impacts of development projects, and has willingly undertaken such measures backed by policies and regulations.

EIA is a vast subject in itself, and there are many things that can be improved, and looked at from different perspectives. There is still a long way to go.

Author: Saurab Babu

Usually found sitting with a good book, nibbling on a piece of dark chocolate. Always ready for a good story.

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