Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment:
The environmental impact assessment in India was started in 1976-77, when the planning commission asked the Department of Science and Technology to examine the river valley projects from environmental angel. This was subsequently extended to cover those projects, which required approval of the Public Investment Board.
Then the Govt. of India enacted the Environment (Protection) Act on 23rd May 1986 to achieve the objective the decision that were taken is to make environmental impact assessment statutory. After following the legal procedure, a notification was issued on 27th Jan 94. 10th April, 1997 and 27th Jan 2000. making environmental impact assessment statutory for 30 development projects (Schedule I), the mandatory EIA clearance procedure started.
The EIA Cycle and Procedures:
The EIA process in India is made up of the following phases:
2. Scoping and consideration of alternatives
3. Baseline data collection
4. Impact prediction
5. Assessment of alternatives, delineation of mitigation measures and environmental impact statement
6. Public hearing
7. Environment Management Plan
8. Decision making
9. Monitoring the clearance conditions
Screening is done to see whether a project requires environmental clearance as per the statutory notifications.
Screening Criteria are based upon:
(i) Scales of investment;
(ii) Type of development; and,
(iii) Location of development.
A Project requires statutory environmental clearance only if the provisions of EIA notification and/or one or more statutory notification is mentioned.
Scoping is a process of detailing the terms of reference of EIA. It has to be done by the consultant in consultation with the project proponent and guidance, if need be, from Impact Assessment Agency. The Ministry of Environment and Forests has published guidelines for different sectors, which outline the significant issues to be addressed in the EIA studies Quantifiable impacts are to be assessed on the basis of magnitude, prevalence, frequency and duration and non-quantifiable impacts (such as aesthetic or recreational value), significance is commonly determined through the socio-economic criteria.
After the areas, where the project could have significant impact, are identified, the baseline status of these should be monitored and then the likely changes in these on account of the construction and operation of the proposed project should be predicted. Recent years, scoping was determined by “Term of reference” clearance by MOEF.
Baseline data describes the existing environmental status of the identified study area. The site-specific primary data should be monitored for the identified parameters and supplemented by secondary data if available.
Impact prediction is a way of ‘mapping’ the environmental consequences of the significant aspects of the project and its alternatives. Environmental impact can never be predicted with absolute certainty and this is all the more reason to consider all possible factors and take all possible precautions for reducing the degree of uncertainty.
The Following Impacts of the Project should be Assessed:
Changes in ambient levels and ground level concentrations due to total emissions from point, line and area sources effects on soils, materials, vegetation, and human health.
Changes in ambient levels due to noise generated from equipment and movement of vehicles effect fauna and human health.
(i) Availability to competing users
(ii) Changes in quality
(iii) Sediment transport
(iv) Ingress of saline water
(i) Changes in land use and drainage pattern
(ii) Changes in land quality including
(iii) Effects of waste disposal
(iv) Changes in shoreline/river-bank and their stability-
(i) Deforestation/tree-cutting and shrinkage of animal habitat
(ii) Impact on fauna and flora (including aquatic species if any) due to contaminants/pollutants
(iii) Impact on rare and endangered species, endemic species, and migratory path/route of animals
(iv) Impact on breeding and nesting grounds
(i) Impact on the local community including demographic changes
(ii) Impact on economic status
(iii) Impact on human health
(iv) Impact of increased traffic
Assessment of Alternatives, Delineation of Mitigation Measure and Environmental Impact Assessment Report:
For every project, possible alternatives should be identified and environmental attributes compared. Alternatives should cover both project location and process technologies. Alternatives mould considers ‘no project’ option also. Alternatives should then be ranked for selection of the best environmental option for optimum economic benefits to the community at large.
Once alternatives have been reviewed, a mitigation plan should be drawn up for the selected option and is supplemented with an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) to guide the proponent towards environmental improvements. The EMP is a crucial input to monitoring the clearance conditions and therefore details of monitoring should be included in the EMP.
An EIA report should provide clear information to the decision-maker on the different environmental scenarios without the project, with the project and with project alternatives. Uncertainties should be clearly reflected in the EIA report.
Law requires that the public must be informed and consulted on a proposed development after the completion of EIA report. Any one likely to be affected by the proposed project is entitled to have assess to the Executive Summary of the EIA.
The affected persons may include:
(i) Bonafide local residents
(ii) Local associations,
(iii) Environmental groups: active in the area
(iv) Any other person located at the project site/ sites of displacement
They are to be given an opportunity to make oral/written suggestions to the State Pollution Control Board as per Schedule IV of Annex I.
Decision making process involve consultation between the project proponent (assisted by a consultant) and the impact assessment authority (assisted by an expert group if necessary). The decision on environmental clearance is arrived at through a number of steps including evaluation of EIA and EMP.
Monitoring the Clearance Conditions:
Monitoring should be done during both construction and operation phases of a project. This is not only to ensure that the commitments made are compiled with but also to observe where the predictions made in the EIA reports were correct or not.
Where the impacts exceed the predicted levels, corrective action should be taken. Monitoring will enable the regulatory agency to review the validity of predictions and the conditions of implementation of the Environmental Management Plan (EMP).