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Environmental Impact Assessment

Context:

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has notified amendments to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Rules, making several exemptions to gaining environmental clearance.

  • In order to analyse (and subsequently mitigate) a project or activity’s possible negative consequences on the ecology of a region, the MoEFCC promulgated a new EIA Notification in 2006. This notification requires review of all pertinent facts concerning a project or activity. The years 2016, 2020, and 2021 saw amendments.

Relevance:

GS III- Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  • What are the Exemptions?
  • What is Environment Impact Assessment?
  • Importance of Environment Impact Assessment:
  • Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC)

What are the Exemptions?

Strategic and Defence Projects:

  • Exempts strategic and defense-related highway projects, including those located 100 km from the Line of Control, from the need for an environmental review before construction.
  • The exemption to be granted to highways of strategic importance does away with the requirement for green clearance for construction of the contentious Char Dham project, which includes widening of 899 km roads in ecologically sensitive areas of Uttarakhand to I
  • The case is presently being heard in Supreme Court, which has set up a high-powered committee to look into the matter.

Biomass Based Power Plants:

  • Thermal power plants up to 15 MW based on biomass or non-hazardous municipal solid waste using auxiliary fuel such as coal, lignite or petroleum products up to 15% have also been exempted — as long as the fuel mix is eco-friendly.

Ports and Harbour dealing in Fish:

  • Fish handling ports and harbours with less pollution potential compared to others, and caters to small fishermen, are exempted from environmental clearance.

Two other projects are exempted:

  • Toll plazas that require additional width for the installation of toll collection booths to accommodate a large number of vehicles,
  • Expansion activities at existing airports related to the expansion of terminal buildings without increasing the airport’s current area rather than the expansion of runways, etc.

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.

-Source: The Hindu


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