The process of EIA, though globally accepted and followed, still have many differences specific to the conditions in each country. In India, EIA has been a mandatory process since the EIA notification became part of India’s legislation in 1994. Since then, many amendments and modifications have been made by the government to improve (or dilute) the EIA process.
It is important to note that EIA still remains a huge challenge in developing countries. This is because they are still keen on achieving the economic prosperity of the West. However, EIA is posing a big challenge to these governments by making them think twice about mindlessly expanding their businesses and industries. This can be seen in this post, as I describe the key regulations passed by the Indian government over the course of 12 years.
EIA notification 1994
This was the first legal document established in India pertaining to Environmental Impact Assessment. Even though the concept of EIA was introduced in 1979, it was never mandatory for the government or private entities to conduct such studies before a project was commenced. It was only required to be done for “mega projects” like large nuclear plants or hydroelectric plants.
In 1994, the notification came with an objective to push for sustainable industrialization of the country. It stated that every project must be “cleared” by the Central Government with an Environmental Clearance (EC). This was to be obtained before a project is set up or expanded. This notification led to the establishment of the Environmental Impact Agency (EIA) under Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF) of the Govt. of India.
This notification allowed project proponents to reapply for an EC if it was earlier rejected on account of insufficient data (which could even mean that the EC was rejected on environmental grounds). However, the EC will be completely rejected and the proponents penalized if it was found that data submitted was false or factual.
Important amendments of 1994 notification
The first notification was by no means perfect. It lacked a lot of the key elements of EIA I have been mentioning in all my EIA blogs. The government continued to amend this notification to make the environmental clearance process stronger (or in some cases, weaker). It had to, obviously, balance environmental growth with economic development as well as keep the environmentalists and the industrialists happy. It proved to be a hard task, as the amendments will show.
April 1997-This was a key amendment which introduced the concept of public hearing for the first time in EIAs in India. The project proponents were to submit an application for conducting a public hearing and/or the government would take charge. The responsibility of setting up a date, venue and publicizing the information was given to the state Pollution Control Boards.
This was a great move by the government, allowing all stakeholders to participate in the process. The amendment even specified as to what constituted the “public” and who could participate in the decision making process.
June 2002- 5 years later, the next amendment exempted many projects from having to get an EC based on the level of investment in the project. It stated that all new projects costing less than 100 crore rupees and all expansion projects costing less than 50 crore rupees need not get an EC.
This greatly diluted the EIA process. Investment was not a measure of how much environmental or social impact a project would have on it’s project area. Even a small scale mining project would cause significant environmental pollution and displacement of local populations.
February 2003- This brought in location specific aspects into the EIA process. It required customized studies and recommendations pertaining to that particular project site.
A good move, on the whole. It recognized that certain areas would require greater mitigation measures because of the sensitive ecosystems it hosted.
August 2003- This amendment furthered the protection of sensitive areas by stating that any project in a highly polluted area and/or within 15 km radius of a sensitive ecosystem/protected area (National Park, Biosphere Reserve, etc) would require the EC from the central government.
A move that greatly strengthened the EIA process in India by showing that the government was committed to protecting natural ecosystems and the flora and fauna it hosted. This amendment came in the wake of the Biodiversity Act, 2002.
September 2003- Public hearing was now not required for offshore activities and for activities that are taking place outside a 10 km radius of any sensitive ecosystem and/or human habitation.
This is a mixed move, in my opinion. While this quickened the process of getting an EC, the government clearly didn’t recognize the possible long-term effects and spatial extent of the effects that a project could have.
July 2005- A major move by introducing a provision for projects to obtain temporary working permit for up to 2 years even without an EC. The project proponents could submit an application for such a permit, which would be considered on a case-to-case basis. If the government thought it to be safe, the project could start without the EC, provided that the EC will be obtained under the two year limit.
This again, was a mixed move taken by the government. While this allowed the work to start much earlier and the project proponents suffered less losses, it greatly diluted the environmental protection of the site. A lot of damage can be done in 2 years time. Certain processes that would not have been approved by an EAC could be undertaken since they are not involved for the first two years.
Sometimes, if the EC is not granted after the 2 year permit, the entire project goes under loss. Then the government would take pity on the proponents, say “Ok, we don’t want the economy to suffer because of this!” and give the clearance anyway.
There were a lot of drawbacks under this notification and the amendments that followed, which was why the government came up with another notification in 2006.
EIA notification 2006
This superceded the 1994 notification. The key change in this notification was that it divided all projects into two categories: Category A and B. All Category A projects required clearance from the MoEF, while Category B projects needed to get their clearance from the State governments.
Within Category B, there were two sub-categories B1 and B2. B1 projects required that EIA reports be made, while B2 projects were completely exempted from the EIA process.
The categorization was done on the basis of size or capacity of the project, not based on the level of investment. This was a definite pro in the new legislation.
The process of scoping was greatly strengthened through this notification. Now, all Category A and B1 projects needed to submit a Terms of Reference. The ToR is drafted by the EAC either on its own or by consulting the project proponents and other stakeholders. However, certain projects like road expansion were exempted from the scoping process entirely. In this case, the ToR can be prepared and submitted by the project proponents themselves.
This provision was reasonable, considering that some projects would not affect all stakeholders as much. The project proponents were also given the option of conducting EIA either on their or by hiring a private consultant.
A and B1 projects required public consultation under the scoping process, except in projects that are exempted from them. This consultation was to be held after the EIA report is submitted, to look after the grievances of the local population.
Public participation after the filing of report did not allow the public to play any active role in the EIA process. Also, the notification did not define what constituted the “public” and who could physically participate in the meetings. Could interested public come? Or only locals living in the area were allowed?
The notification decentralized a lot of the process to the State governments. It also reduced the time period for EIAs to 10.5-14 months.
This is again, a good move under this notification. Decentralization allowed division of labor which in turn, reduced the time taken for EIAs. Previously, rapid EIA took 14-19 months and comprehensive EIA took 21-28 months!
Changes continue to be made in the EIA notification in the Indian government. The effort, as always, is to ensure a strong EIA process that adequately protects the environmental and the society being impacted by the project. Balance between natural conservation and economic/infrastructure development still, remains a challenge.