Context:

The Environment Appraisal Committee (EAC) – Infrastructure I of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has removed the first hurdle faced by the project. It has “recommended” it “for grant of terms of reference (TOR)” for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies, which in the first instance will include baseline studies over three months.

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Conservation and Protection measures, Environmental Impact Assessment)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is Environment Impact Assessment?
  2. Stages of Environment Impact Assessment:
  3. Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC)
  4. Recently in News: EIA Notification 2020
  5. Little Andaman Island
  6. About NITI Aayog’s proposal for Little Andaman
  7. Criticisms of the plan and EAC’s views

What is Environment Impact Assessment?

  • Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.
  • UNEP defines Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a tool used to identify the environmental, social and economic impacts of a project prior to decision-making.
  • It aims to predict environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to suit the local environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers.
  • Environment Impact Assessment in India is statutorily backed by the Environment Protection Act, 1986 which contains various provisions on EIA methodology and process.

Stages of Environment Impact Assessment:

  • Project screening: This entails the application of EIA to those projects that may have significant environmental impacts.
  • Scoping: This step seeks to identify, at an early stage, the key, significant environmental issues from among a host of possible impacts of a project and all the available alternatives.
  • Consideration of alternatives
  • Description of the project/development action: This step seeks to clarify the purpose and rationale of the project and understand its various characteristics, including the stages of development, location and processes.
  • Description of the environmental baseline: This includes the establishment of both the present and future state of the environment, in the absence of the project, taking into account the changes resulting from natural events and from other human activities.
  • The prediction of impacts: This step aims to identify the likely magnitude of the change (i.e., impact) in the environment when the project is implemented in comparison with the situation when the project is not carried out.
  • Evaluation and assessment of significance: This seeks to assess the relative significance of the predicted impacts to allow a focus on key adverse impacts.
  • Mitigation: This involves the introduction of measures to avoid, reduce, remedy or compensate for any significant adverse impacts.
  • Public consultation and participation: This aims to assure the quality, comprehensiveness and effectiveness of the EIA, as well as to ensure that the public’s views are adequately taken into consideration in the decision-making process.
  • EIS presentation: This is a vital step in the process. If done badly, much good work in the EIA may be negated.
  • Review: This involves a systematic appraisal of the quality of the EIS, as a contribution to the decision-making process.
  • Decision-making:
  • Post-decision monitoring: This involves the recording of outcomes associated with development impacts, after the decision to proceed with the project.

Importance of Environment Impact Assessment:

  • Reduced cost and time of project implementation and design,
  • Avoided treatment/clean-up costs and impacts of laws and regulations.
  • Lays base for environmentally sound projects;
  • Greater awareness of environmental legislation;
  • Protection of Environment
  • Optimum utilization of resources (balance between development and Environmental protection)

Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC)

  • The EAC is a multidisciplinary sectoral appraisal committee comprising of various subject matter experts for appraisal of sector-specific projects. The EAC is the recommendatory body. Based on the recommendations of the Expert Appraisal Committee, environmental clearance is accorded or rejected to the project by MoEF&CC.
  • After 2006 Amendment the EIA cycle comprises of four stages:
    1. Screening
    2. Scoping
    3. Public hearing
    4. Appraisal
  1. Category A projects require mandatory environmental clearance and thus they do not undergo the screening process.
  2. Category B projects undergoes screening process and they are classified into two types.
  3. Category B1 projects (Mandatorily requires EIA).
  4. Category B2 projects (Do not require EIA).

Thus, Category A projects and Category B, projects undergo the complete EIA process whereas Category B2 projects are excluded from complete EIA process.

Recently in News: EIA Notification 2020

  • Among the major departures from existing regulations, the most significant difference in the new Draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020 is the removal of several activities from the purview of public consultation.
  • A list of projects has been included under Category B2, expressly exempted from the requirement of an EIA.
  • The projects under this category include offshore and onshore oil, gas and shale exploration, hydroelectric projects up to 25 MW, irrigation projects between 2,000 and 10,000 hectares of command area, micro-small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in dye and dye intermediates, all inland waterway projects etc.
  • The projects in this list are, under existing norms, identified on the basis of screening by Expert Appraisal Committees, rather than being exempted through listing in the Schedule.
  • Also, coal and non-coal mineral prospecting and solar photovoltaic projects do not need prior environmental clearance or permission in the new scheme.

Little Andaman Island

  • Little Andaman Island is the fourth largest of the Andaman Islands of India lying at the southern end of the archipelago (to the south of Port Blair).
  • It belongs to the South Andaman administrative district, part of the Indian union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
  • The low-lying island has widespread rainforest and several rare species of marine turtle.
  • The island is home to the Onge aboriginal tribe, who call the island Egu Belong, and has been a tribal reserve since 1957.
  • There are multilingual settlers of Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, and Ranchi communities in the island as well.
  • It is famous by the name of its main village and the largest settlement –Hut Bay. Hut Bay Jetty is the only harbor for ships or boats coming into this island from the capital town –Port Blair.
  • Little Andamans is less explored due to the limited mode of connection with the capital town of Port Blair.

About NITI Aayog’s proposal for Little Andaman

  • The ‘Sustainable Development of Little Andaman Island – Vision Document’, is the NITI Aayog’s proposal to leverage the strategic location and natural features of the island.
  • This, the vision says, will be done by building a new greenfield coastal city there, that will be developed as a free trade zone and will compete with Singapore and Hong Kong.
  • The proposal is pivoted along three development anchors and zones.
    1. Zone 1 – spread along the east coast of Little Andaman will be the financial district and medi city and will include an aerocity, and a tourism and hospital district.
    2. Zone 2 – spread over forest and called the leisure zone, will have a film city, a residential district and a tourism (Special Economic Zone) SEZ.
    3. Zone 3 – spread out on forest as well will be a nature zone, further categorised into three districts: an exclusive forest resort, a nature healing district and a nature retreat, all on the western coast.
  • There will be ‘underwater’ resorts, casinos, golf courses, convention centres, plug-and-play office complexes, a drone port with fully automated drone delivery system, nature cure institutes and more.
  • An international airport capable of handling all types of aircraft will be central to this development vision because “all successful case studies and references” studied by the visioning team indicate that an international airport is key for development.

Criticisms of the plan and EAC’s views

  • The vision document has maps with no legends or explanations and uses inappropriate photographs plagiarised from the Internet.
  • It talks of conservation of national park/wildlife sanctuary on Little Andaman when none exist here and it has no mention of the geological vulnerability of the place, which was amongst the worst-affected in the earthquake-tsunami combination in 2004.
  • The plan has no financial details, no budgeting, or inventorisation of forests and ecological wealth and no details of any impact assessment.
  • The nature resort is planned on one of the most important nesting sites of the globally endangered Giant Leatherback sea turtle. (Galathea Bay is an iconic Giant Leatherback sea turtle nesting site in India.)
  • Forest officers raised serious concerns about this vision on grounds of ecological fragility, indigenous rights and vulnerability to earthquakes and tsunamis.
  • Such large diversion of forest land would cause obvious environmental loss leading to irreversible damage (more than 2 million trees stand in the forest land sought for these projects), that habitats of various wild animals including endangered sea turtles would be affected, and that the impact could not even be assessed because there was no environment impact assessment report and neither were there any detailed site layout plans for the proposed diversion.
  • The committee also noted that there were no details of the trees to be felled — a number that could run into millions since 130 sq. km. of the project area has some of the finest tropical forests in India.

-Source: The Hindu

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