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What do you mean by EIA?

Environmental assessment assesses the environmental consequences of a plan, policy, program, or actual projects before the decision to move forward with the proposed action.

➤ Why EIA?

  • Every anthropogenic activity has some impact on the environment. More often, it is harmful to the environment than benign. 
  • However, as it is developed today, humanity cannot live without taking up these activities for his food, security, and other needs. Consequently, there is a need to harmonize developmental activities with environmental concerns. It is desirable to ensure that the development options under consideration are sustainable. In doing so, environmental consequences must be characterized early in the project cycle and accounted for in the project design.

➤ Environmental impact assessment (EIA) in detail

  • Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is one of the tools available with the planners to harmonize development activities with environmental concerns. 
  • EIA integrates the environmental concerns in the developmental activities right when initiating for preparing the feasibility report. In doing so, it can enable the integration of environmental concerns and mitigation measures in project development. EIA can often prevent future liabilities or expensive alterations in project design.
  • EIA's objective is to foresee the potential environmental problems that would arise out of proposed development and address them in the project's planning and design stage. 
  • EIA/ Environment Management Plan (EMP) should assist planners and government authorities in the decision-making process by identifying the key impacts/ issues and formulating the mitigation measures.
  • EIA is a planning tool which is accepted as an integral component of sound decision-making.
  • Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoE&F) has taken several policy initiatives and enacted environmental and pollution control legislation to prevent indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources and promote the integration of environmental concerns in developmental projects.
  • One such initiative is the Notification on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of developmental projects 1994 under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

➤ Indian Policies

  • The environmental impact assessment in India was started in 1976-77 when the Planning Commission asked the then Department of Science and Technology to examine the river-valley projects from an environmental angle. 
  • This was subsequently extended to cover those projects, which required approval of the Public Investment Board. These were administrative decisions and lacked legislative support. The Government of India enacted the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986. To achieve the Act's objectives, one of the decisions that were taken is to make environmental impact assessment statutory.

Besides EIA, the Government of India under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 issued several other notifications related to environmental impact assessment. These are limited to specific geographical areas. They are

  • Prohibiting location of industries except those related to Tourism in a belt of 1 km from high tide mark from the Revdanda Creek up to Devgarh Point (near Shrivardhan) as well as in 1 km belt along the banks of Rajpuri Creek in Murud Janjira area in the Raigarh district of Maharashtra (1989)
  • Restricting location of industries, mining operations and regulating other activities in Doon Valley (1989)
  • Regulating activities in the coastal stretches of the country by classifying them as coastal regulation zone and prohibiting certain activities (1991)
    Restricting the location of industries and regulating other activities in Dahanu Taluka in Maharashtra (1991)
  • Restricting certain activities in specified areas of Aravalli Range in the Gurgaon district of Haryana and Alwar district of Rajasthan (1992)
  • Regulating industrial and other activities, which could lead to pollution and congestion in an area north-west of Numaligarh in Assam (1996)

The EIA Cycle and Procedures

➤ The EIA process in India is made up of the following phases

  • Screening
  • Scoping
  • Baseline data collection
  • Impact prediction
  • Assessment of alternatives, delineation of mitigation measures and environmental impact statement
  • Public hearing
  • Environment Management Plan
  • Decision making
  • Monitoring the clearance conditions

1. Screening

  • 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.

2. Scoping

  • Scoping is a process of detailing the terms of reference for EIA. The consultant has to consult with the project proponent and guidance, if need be, from the Impact Assessment Agency.
  • The Ministry of Environment and Forests has published sector-wise guidelines (Comprehensive terms of reference) which outline the significant issues which have to be addressed in the EIA studies.
  • Quantifiable impacts are assessed based on magnitude, prevalence, frequency and duration and non-quantifiable impacts (such as aesthetic or recreational value). The significance is commonly determined through the socio-economic criteria.
  • After the areas where the project could have a significant impact, are identified, the baseline status should be monitored. The likely changes in these on account of the construction and operation of the proposed project should be predicted.

3. Baseline Data

  • 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.

4. Impact Prediction

  • Impact prediction is a way of mapping the environmental consequences of the project's significant aspects and its alternatives. Environmental impact can never be predicted with absolute certainty. This is all the more reason to consider all possible factors and take all possible precautions to reduce the degree of uncertainty.

The following impacts of the project should be assessed

  • Air
    (i) changes in ambient levels and ground-level concentrations due to total emissions from point, line and area sources
    (ii) effects on soils, materials, vegetation, and human health
  • Noise
    (i) changes in ambient levels due to noise generated from equipment and movement of vehicles
    (ii) effect on fauna and human health
  • Water
    (i) availability to competing users
    (ii) changes in quality
    (iii) sediment transport
    (iv) ingress of saline water
  • Land
    (i) changes in land use and drainage pattern
    (ii) changes in land quality including the effects of waste disposal
    (iii) changes in shoreline/riverbank and their stability
  • Biological
    (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.

Impact on breeding and nesting grounds

(i) Socio-Economic

impact on the local community, including demographic changes.

(ii) Impact on economic status

  • impact on human health
  • impact of increased traffic

5. Assessment of Alternatives, Delineation of Mitigation Measures 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 should consider no project option also. Alternatives should then be ranked for selecting 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 the monitor 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.

6. Public Hearing

  • Law requires that the public be informed and consulted on a proposed development after completing the EIA report.
  • Anyone likely to be affected by the proposed project is entitled to access the EIA Executive Summary. The affected persons may include:
    (i) bonafide 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 allowed to make oral/ written suggestions to the State Pollution Control Board.

7. Environment Management Plan

Environment Management Plan should include:

  • Delineation of mitigation and compensation measures for all the identified significant impacts 
  • Delineation of unmitigated impacts
  • Physical planning including work programme, schedule and locations for putting mitigation and compensation systems in place
  • Delineation of a financial plan for implementing the mitigation measures in the form of budgetary estimates and demonstrating its inclusion in the project budget estimates.

8. Decision Making

  • Decision-making process involves 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 arrives through several steps, including evaluation of EIA and EMP.

9. 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 complied with but also to observe whether 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).

➤ Salient Features of 2006 Amendment

  • Environment Impact Assessment Notification of 2006 has decentralized the environmental clearance projects by categorizing the developmental projects in two categories, i.e., Category A and Category B. 
  • 'Category A' projects are appraised at the national level by Impact Assessment Agency (IAA) and the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) and Category B projects are appraised at the state level. 
  • State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) and State Level Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) are constituted to provide a Category B process clearance. 
  • After the 2006 Amendment, the EIA cycle comprises of four stages.
    (i) Screening
    (ii) Scoping
    (iii) Public hearing
    (iv) Appraisal
  • Category A projects require a mandatory environmental clearance, and thus we do not undergo the screening process.
  • Category B projects undergo a screening process, and they are classified into two types.
    (i) Category B1 projects (Mandatory requires EIA).
    (ii) Category B2 projects (Do not require EIA).
  • Thus Category A projects and Category B1 projects undergo the complete EIA process whereas Category B2 projects are excluded from complete EIA process.

➤ What Are The Components Of EIA

  • The difference between Comprehensive EIA and Rapid EIA is in the time-scale of the data supplied. Rapid EIA is for the speedier appraisal process. While both types of EIA require inclusion/ coverage of all significant environmental impacts and their mitigation, Rapid EIA achieves this by collecting one season (other than monsoon) data only to reduce the time required where comprehensive EIA collects data from all four seasons.
  • Rapid EIA is acceptable if it does not compromise on the quality of decision-making. The review of Rapid EIA submissions will show whether a comprehensive EIA is warranted or not.
  • Therefore, it is clear that the submission of a professionally prepared Comprehensive EIA in the first instance would generally be the more efficient approach. Depending on nature, the project EIA report's location and scale should contain all or some of the following components.

(i) Air Environment

  • Determination of impact zone (through a screening model) and developing a monitoring network 
  • Monitoring the existing status of ambient air quality within the impacted region (7-10 km from the periphery) of the proposed project site 
  • Monitoring the site-specific meteorological data, viz. wind speed and direction, humidity, ambient temperature and environmental lapse rate 
  • Estimation of quantities of air emissions including fugitive emissions from the proposed project 
  • Identification, quantification and evaluation of other potential emissions (including those of vehicular traffic) within the impact zone and estimation of cumulative of all the emissions/impacts 
  • Prediction of changes in the ambient air quality due to point, line and areas source emissions through appropriate air quality models 
  • Evaluation of the adequacy of the proposed pollution control devices to meet gaseous emission and ambient air quality standards 
  • Delineation of mitigation measures at source, pathways and receptor

(ii) Noise Environment

  • Monitoring the present status of noise levels within the impact zone, and prediction of future noise levels resulting from the proposed project and related activities including an increase in vehicular movement
  • Identification of impacts due to any anticipated rise in noise levels on the surrounding environment
  • Recommendations on mitigation measures for noise pollution

(iii) Water Environment

  • Study of existing ground and surface water resources concerning quantity and quality within the impact zone of the proposed project
  • Prediction of impacts on water resources due to the proposed water use/pumping on account of the project
  • Quantification and characterization of wastewater including toxic organic, from the proposed activity
  • Evaluation of the proposed pollution prevention and wastewater treatment system and suggestions on modification, if required
  • Prediction of impacts of effluent discharge on the quality of the receiving water body using appropriate mathematical/simulation models
  • Assessment of the feasibility of water recycling and reuse and delineation of the detailed plan in this regard

(iv) Biological Environment

Survey of flora and fauna clearly delineating season and duration.

  • Assessment of flora and fauna present within the impact zone of the project
  • Assessment of potential damage to terrestrial and aquatic flora and fauna due to the discharge of effluents and gaseous emissions from the project
  • Assessment of damage to terrestrial flora and fauna due to air pollution, and land use and landscape changes
  • Assessment of damage to aquatic and marine flora and fauna (including commercial fishing) due to physical disturbances and alterations
  • Prediction of biological stresses within the impact zone of the proposed project
  • Delineation of mitigation measures to prevent and/or reduce the damage.

(v) Land Environment

  • Studies on soil characteristics, existing land use and topography, landscape and drainage patterns within the impact zone
  • Estimation on impacts of the project on land use, landscape, topography, drainage and hydrology
  • Identification of the potential utility of treated effluent in the land application and subsequent impacts
  • Estimation and Characterization of solid wastes and delineation of management options for minimization of waste and environmentally compatible disposal

(vi) Socio-economic and Health Environment

  • Collection of demographic and related socio-economic data
  • Collection of epidemiological data, including studies on prominent endemic diseases (e.g. fluorosis, malaria, filaria, malnutrition) and morbidity rates among the population within the impact zone
  • Projection of anticipated changes in the socio-economic and health due to the project and related activities including traffic congestion and delineation of measures to minimize adverse impacts
  • Assessment of impact on significant historical, cultural and archaeological sites/places in the area
  • Assessment of economic benefits arising out of the project
  • Assessment of rehabilitation requirements with special emphasis on scheduled areas, if any.

(vii) Risk Assessment

  • Hazard identification taking recourse to hazard indices, inventory analysis, dam break probability, Natural Hazard Probability etc.
  • Maximum Credible Accident (MCA) analysis to identify potentially hazardous scenarios
  • Consequence analysis of failures and accidents resulting in fire, explosion, hazardous releases and dam breaks etc.
  • Hazard & Operability (HAZOP) studies
  • Assessment of risk based on the above evaluations
  • Preparation of an onsite and off-site (project affected area) Disaster Management Plan

(viii) Environment Management Plan

  • Delineation of mitigation measures including prevention and control for each environmental component and rehabilitation and resettlement plan.
  • Delineation of a monitoring scheme for compliance of conditions
  • Delineation of implementation plan including scheduling and resource allocation
The document Environmental Impact Assessment (Part - 1) | Environment for UPSC CSE is a part of the UPSC Course Environment for UPSC CSE.
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FAQs on Environmental Impact Assessment (Part - 1) - Environment for UPSC CSE

1. What is an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)?
Ans. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process used to identify and evaluate the potential environmental impacts of a proposed project or development. It aims to predict the consequences of the project on the environment and provide measures to mitigate any negative impacts.
2. Why is an Environmental Impact Assessment important?
Ans. An Environmental Impact Assessment is important because it helps decision-makers understand the potential environmental consequences of a project before it is approved or implemented. It ensures that environmental factors are considered in the decision-making process, promotes sustainable development, and allows for the identification and implementation of measures to reduce or eliminate any adverse impacts.
3. What are the key steps involved in conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment?
Ans. The key steps involved in conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment typically include scoping, baseline data collection, impact prediction and assessment, identification of mitigation measures, preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), public consultation, review and decision-making, and monitoring and follow-up.
4. Who is responsible for conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment?
Ans. The responsibility for conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment usually lies with the project proponent or developer. However, in some cases, an independent consultant or environmental agency may be hired to carry out the assessment. The assessment is often subject to regulatory oversight and may require the involvement of various stakeholders, including government agencies, NGOs, and the public.
5. What are some examples of projects that require an Environmental Impact Assessment?
Ans. Projects that may require an Environmental Impact Assessment include large-scale infrastructure developments such as highways, airports, and dams, industrial projects such as oil refineries and power plants, mining operations, urban development projects, and activities in environmentally sensitive areas like national parks or protected habitats. The specific requirements for an Environmental Impact Assessment vary by country and depend on the scale and potential impacts of the proposed project.
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