EIA has been with us since the 1990s, but there are still some major issues associated with it’s functioning. And these are the issues I’d like to highlight in this post.
- Awareness- Even today, a large part of the population do not know of the existence of such a process. Apart from environmental students, lawyers and industrialists who are asked to conduct EIA studies before a new project, the others are unaware. It’s okay if there are people against the EIA process and even better if people are for it, but when people do not even know what it is, there is little progress that can be done.
- Now, coming to the people against it. There are many (particularly the people who are forced to conduct these studies) who feel it is a waste of time and resources. There are even more who consider it a pointless exercise.
- There are others who think that the EIA process is not developed enough to be implemented right now.
- I recently had a somewhat heated discussion with a friend on Facebook about the need for EIA. Being someone who represents infrastructure firms, he felt that for a developing economy, EIA is nothing but a speed-breaker. He did have a reason for it.
EIA is an extremely slow process. It takes-
- 60 days for the scoping stage, from which a Term of Reference (TOR) is drafted.
- 45 days to complete the public hearing stage, where any interested party can raise questions and issues about the aspects of the project.
- 60 days for the formation of an appraisal committee, and their work in the project area. This is part of the Prediction and Mitigation stage of EIA.
- 45 days for the granting of an Environmental Clearance (EC) or it’s rejection.
- If the EC is rejected, and the study carried out is not deemed exhaustive enough by the Environmental ministry, another study is conducted, that takes possibly longer the the earlier 60 days.
That makes the entire process a minimum of 210 days long, with the addition of 60-80 days in case of a rejection and accounting for the typical bureaucratic delays. I consider this a blatant waste of time, for a process that I think can be completed in a little over 120 days. (How? Wait for the next post!)
- Corruption is a major challenge in EIA studies. Industries with deep pockets and deeper connections in the govt. simply bribe their way to an EC.
- In India, EIA is a govt. controlled procedure. Bureaucratic procedures are generally long-drawn and may require tedious repition before you get it right.
- An appraisal committee is formed by bringing in experts of various fields for only a particular project, in most cases. While this makes sense because each project site comes with it different complications, it makes sense to have a more permanent body of scientists working full time in EIA, especially for those fields that are common to all sites.
- EIA is not just about the ecological factors affected by the project. It also needs to assess economic, social and cultural implications of the project. Sometimes, this overshadows the ecological aspects.
- All stakeholders (read Environmental Impact Assessment-Stakeholders) are not given an equal say in the decision making processes.
- While public hearings are an important part of the EIA process, it’s not publicized enough and many people remain unaware about a project until it’s too late.
All of these challenges are formidable, but not impossible to overcome. How can we overcome them? Here are a few ideas.