Environmental Impact Assessment – Terms of Reference

TOR or Terms of Reference is a document produced by the authority conducting the EIA study. It is formed during Scoping, the second stage in the EIA process. All the stakeholders are invited to submit their concerns regarding the project during a public hearing organized by the EIA committee, which is followed by discussions and deliberations. The finalized list of this stage of EIA is submitted to the Ministry in the form of TOR.

TOR is an important document in the process of EIA because it sets the guidelines for the study. A TOR is drawn up with the following questions in mind.

  1. The purpose of the study/project.
  2. The extent of the study.
  3. The stakeholders’ requirements; each stakeholder looks at different aspects of the project differently. Complex information needs to be explained appropriately.

Content of TOR

TOR highlights the points that need to be covered (the TOR itself does not elaborate on these points unless required) during the EIA study, which include:

  1. A description of the project, it’s purposes and extent.
  2. All the agencies responsible in the developmental project and the EIA study.
  3. A description of the existing environmental conditions in the project site and surrounding areas.
  4. The stakeholders that will be benefited and harmed by the fulfillment of the project.
  5. The environmental aspects the project is likely to affect.
  6. The impacts, both positive and negative, the project will have on the environmental and social aspects of the project area. This is undertaken through checklists, matrices or networks.
  7. A list/description of the species endemic to the area, which are likely to be effected.
  8. How in-depth does the EIA study need to be: whether baseline data is available or whether the study be sourced from secondary data.
  9. Possible alternatives for the project in terms of design, site, technology, implementation, etc.
  10. The legal requirements of the project and future legislation that need to be drafted.
  11. If the project site comes under special categories, and the legislation regarding the same.
  12. Recommended mitigation strategies.
  13. The expertise required for the EIA study.
  14. The expected time limit for the entire EIA study.
  15. Natural Resource Valuation (NRV), if possible.
  16. The budget of the study, also called cost-benefit analysis.

It is important that the TOR be drawn up exhaustively to ensure that the EIA study carried out is effective in warding off as much environmental damage as possible. TORs take about 45 days to prepare in today’s EIA studies.


Under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change guidelines, reference TORs for the most common developmental projects have been drawn up in the ministry website. This reference document lists out the most important aspects and impacts of large, common developmental projects. This eases the burden on the EIA committees working to conduct EIA of large projects. They take most of the information to be mentioned in the TOR from this reference. All that is included from their side are site specific issues that arise for each individual project; for example, the presence of a unique ecosystem in the area (mangroves etc), presence of protected areas in the project vicinity, etc.

Terms of reference document from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change website

You can check out an example of a TOR produced for a Resort in Big And Little Pelican Cay 
Portland Bight, St. Catherine, Jamaica.


  1. http://environmentclearance.nic.in/
  2. http://www.fao.org/docrep/v8350e/v8350e0d.htm
  3. http://elaw.org/system/files/tor-eia.pdf

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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