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Key Elements of An Initial Project Description and Scoping

  • The key environmental issues to be considered about a project characteristics are discussed in Sectoral Guidelines published by MoEF from time to time.
  • An Initial Project Description (IPD) should, at the very least, provide the reviewer with all the information necessary to enable project screening and scoping.

Specific information that must be covered by the IPD includes

  • Location/current land use along with contours and whether it conforms to the development plans proposed for that area
  • Details of proposed project activity including the project cost
  • Outlining the key project elements during the preconstruction, the construction and the operation phases etc. as per the list of documents to be attached with the questionnaire
  • The IPD may also include.
  • Off-site activities
  • Associated activities
  • Expected project induced activities
    (i) This would facilitate the reviewer's task. The project proponent after suitable scoping should provide environmental information for consideration in detailed EIA. While assessing the report, the reviewer should focus on the crucial aspects involving project location and characteristics.

(i) Project Location(s)

  • The site(s) selection can be an effective approach in minimizing the requirement of mitigation measures. 
  • Proposed project locations should be reviewed based on regulatory and non-regulatory criteria. 
  • Project siting restrictions depend on the sensitivity of the surrounding environment. The sensitivity should be assessed about the proximity of the project to the places/sites listed in the identified ecologically sensitive zones (ESZ) notified by MOEF.

The siting criteria delineated by MoEF include

  • As far as possible prime agricultural land/forest land may not be converted into an industrial site
  • Land acquired should be minimum but sufficient to provide for a green belt wherein the treated wastewater, if possible/suitable, could be utilized from wastewater treatment systems.
  • Enough space may be provided for storing solid wastes. Space and the waste can be made available for possible reuse in future.
  • Layout and form of the project must conform to the area's landscape without unduly affecting the scenic features of that place.
  • If any to be created, the project's associated township must provide space for a photo-graphic barrier between the project and the township. It should take into account predominant wind direction.

Besides, the following distances should be maintained

  • Coastal Areas: at least 1/2 km from the high tide line (within 0.5 km of High Tide Line (HTL), specified activities as per CRZ notification, 1991 are permitted) (The HTL is to be delineated by the authorized agency only.) 
  • Estuaries: At least 200 metres from the estuary boundaries 
  • Flood Plains of the Riverine systems: at least 500 metres from flood plain or modified flood plain or by flood control systems 
  • Transport/Communication System: at least 500 metres from highway and railway 
  • Major Settlements ( 3,00,000 population) at least 25 km from the projected growth boundary of the settlement

In addition to the siting criteria listed above, the proposed project location should be reviewed about the following salient issues

  • Ambient air, water and noise quality standards
  • Critically polluted areas
  • Natural disaster-prone areas
  • Ecologically sensitive areas
  • Availability of water and other critical infrastructures like electricity, roads with adequate width and capacity

Procedure for Public Hearing

  • Process of Public Hearing:
  • Whoever applies for environmental clearance of projects, shall submit to the concerned State Pollution Control Board.
  • Notice of Public Hearing:
    (i) The State Pollution Control Board shall cause a notice for an environmental public hearing that shall be published in at least two newspapers widely circulated in the region around the project, one of which shall be in the vernacular language the locality concerned. State Pollution Control Board shall mention the date, time and place of the public hearing. Suggestions, views, comments and objections of the public shall be invited within thirty days from the date of publication of the notification.
    (ii) All persons including bona fide residents, environmental groups and others located at the project site/sites of displacement/sites likely to be affected can participate in the public hearing. They can also make oral/written suggestions to the State Pollution Control Board. 

Composition of the public hearing panel
The composition of Public Hearing Panel may consist of the following, namely

  • A representative of State Pollution Control Board;
  • District Collector or his nominee;
  • A representative of State Government dealing with the subject;
  • A representative of Department of the State Government dealing with Environment;
  • Not more than three representatives of the local bodies such as Municipalities or panchayats;
  • Not more than three senior citizens of the area nominated by the District Collector.

Environmental Impact Assessment in The Indian System – Challenges and Recommendations

1. Drawbacks

(a) Applicability

  • Several projects have significant environmental impacts that are exempted from the notification either because they are not listed in schedule1, or their investments are less than what is provided for in the notification.

(b) Composition of expert committees and standards

  • It is being found that the team formed for conducting EIA studies is lacking the expertise in various fields such as environmentalists, wildlife experts, Anthropologists and Social Scientists (to study the social impact of the project). 
  • There is a lack of exhaustive ecological and socio-economic indicators for impact assessment.

(c) Public hearing

  • Public comments are not taken into account at the early stage, often leading to conflict at the later stage of project clearance. 
  • Several projects with significant environmental and social impacts have been excluded from the mandatory public hearing process. 
  • The documents which the public are entitled to are seldom available on time.
  • The data collectors do not pay respect to the indigenous knowledge of local people.

(d) Quality

  • One of the biggest concerns with the environmental clearance process is related to the quality of the EIA report carried out. The reports are generally incomplete and provided with false data. 
  • EIA reports ignore several aspects while carrying out assessments, and significant information is found to omitted. 
  • Many EIA reports are based on single-season data and are not adequate to determine whether environmental clearance should be granted. All this makes the entire exercise contrary to its very intent. 
  • As things stand today, it is the project proponent's responsibility to commission the preparation of the EIA for its project. The EIA is actually funded by an agency or individual whose primary interest is to procure clearance for the project proposed. There is little chance that the final assessment presented is unbiased, even if the consultant may provide an unbiased assessment that is critical of the proposed project. 
  • It is sometimes found that a consultancy working in the project area has no specialization in the concerned subject. For example, the EIA report of the proposed oil exploration in the coast of Orissa by the reliance group has been given to the life science Dept of Berhampur University, which has no expertise in the study of turtles its life cycle.
  • In itself, the EIA document is so bulky and technical, which makes it very difficult to decipher to aid in the decision-making process.
  • There are so many fraudulent EIA studies where erroneous data has been used, the same facts used for two totally different places etc. This is due to the lack of a centralized baseline data bank, where such data can be crosschecked.
  • There is no accreditation of EI A consultants. Therefore any such consultant with a track record of fraudulent cases cannot be held liable for discrepancies. It is hard to imagine any consultant after being paid lakh of rupees, preparing a report for the project proponents, indicating that the project is not viable.
  • In nearly every case, the consultants try to interpret and tailor the information looking for ways and means to provide their clients with a report that gives them their money's worth.

(e) Monitoring, compliance and institutional arrangements

  • Often, and more so for strategic industries such as nuclear energy projected, the EMPs are kept confidential for political and administrative reasons
  • Details regarding the effectiveness and implementation of mitigation measures are often not provided.
  • Emergency preparedness plans are not discussed insufficient details and the information not disseminated to the communities.

2. Recommendations

  • Independent EIA Authority 
  • Sector-wide EIA s needed 
  • Creation of an information desk 
  • Creation of a centralized baseline data bank 
  • Dissemination of all information related to projects from notification to clearance to local communities and general public

(a) Applicability

  • All those projects where there is likely to be a significant alternation of ecosystems need to go through environmental clearance, without exception. 
  • No industrial developmental activity should be permitted in ecologically sensitive areas.

(b) Public hearing

  • Public hearings should apply to all hitherto exempt categories of projects which have environmental impacts.

(c) Quality

  • EIA's focus needs to shift from utilization and exploitation of natural resources to conservation of natural resources. 
  • At present, EIA reports are extremely weak when assessing a project area's biological diversity and the consequent impacts on it. This gap needs to be plugged through specific guidelines and necessary amendments. 
  • The checklist needs to include impacts on agricultural biodiversity, biodiversity-related traditional knowledge and live hoods. 
  • All EIA reports should clearly state what the adverse impacts that a proposed project will have are. This should be a separate chapter and not hidden within technical details.
  • The sub-components or subsidiary reports of EIA reports (e.g. Assessments of Biodiversity impacts done by a sub-consultant) should be made publicly accessible as stand-alone reports with the EIA. This should be available on the websites of the MOEF.
  • EIA s should be based on full studies carried out over at least one year. Single season data on environmental parameters like biodiversity, as is being done for several rapid assessments is not adequate to understand the full impact of the proposed project.
  • The preparation of an EIA must be completely independent of the project proponent. One option for this could be to create a central fund for the EIAs that contains fees deposited by project proponents while seeking an EIA for their proposed project. 
  • State and central governments should maintain a list of credible, independent and competent agencies that can carry out EIAs. Similarly, the EIA consultant those are making false reports should be blacklisted. 
  • A national-level accreditation to environment consultancy should be adopted.

(d) Grant of clearance

  • The notification needs to clarify that the provision for site clearance does not imply any commitment on the Impact Assessment Agency to grant full environmental clearance. 
  • The prior informed consent of local communities and urban wards or residents association needs to be made mandatory before the environmental clearance grant. The consent should be from the full general body. 
  • The language used for specifying conditions of clearance must be clear and specific.

(e) Composition of expert committees

  • The present executive committees should be replaced by expert's people from various stakeholder groups reputed in environmental and other relevant fields.
  • The process of selection of those committees should be open and transparent. The minutes, decisions and advice by these committees should be open to the public.

(f) Monitoring, compliance and institutional arrangements

  • The EIA notification needs to build an automatic withdrawal of clearance if the clearance conditions are being violated, and introduce more stringent punishment for noncompliance. At present, the EIA notification limits itself to the stage when environmental clearance is granted.
  • The MOEF should set up more regional offices with advisory Expert committees, each with smaller areas of jurisdiction, to effectively monitor clearance conditions.
  • The state department should establish a robust monitoring mechanism to address compliance of both sets of clearance conditions and take punitive action against the project proponent in case of noncompliance.
  • Local communities should be brought in to the formal monitoring and reporting process of the compliance of conditions presently done by the regional offices of the MOEF.

(g) Redressal

  • The composition of the NGT needs to be changed to include more judicial from the field of environment.
  • The citizen should be able to access the authority for redressal of all violation of the EIA notification and issues relating to non-compliance.

(h) Capacity building

  • NGOs, civil society groups and local communities need to build their capacities to use the EIA notification towards better decision making on projects that can impact their local environments and live hoods. Capacities can be built to proactively and effectively use the notification rather than respond in a manner that is seen as negative or unproductive.

List of Environmentally Sensitive Places

  • Religious and historical places
  • Archaeological monuments/sites
  • Scenic areas
  • Hill resorts/mountains/ hills
  • Beach resorts
  • Health resorts
  • Coastal areas rich in corals, mangroves, breeding grounds of specific species
  • Estuaries rich in mangroves, the breeding ground of specific species
  • Gulf areas
  • Biosphere reserves
  • National park and wildlife sanctuaries
  • Natural lakes, swamps Seismic zones tribal Settlements
  • Areas of scientific and geological interests
  • Defence installations, especially those of security importance and sensitive to pollution
  • Border areas (international)
  • Airport
  • Tiger reserves/elephant reserve/turtle nesting grounds
  • Habitat for migratory birds
  • Lakes, reservoirs, dams
  • Streams/rivers/estuary/seas
  • Railway lines
  • Highways
  • Urban agglomeration

3. Environment Supplement Plan (ESP)

  • An Environmental Supplemental Plan (ESP) is an environmentally beneficial project or activity that is not required by law, but that an alleged violator of Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 agrees to undertake as part of the process of environmental clearance.
  • "Environmentally beneficial" means an Environmental Supplemental Plan must remediate, improve, protect the environment or reduce risks to public health or the environment.

(a) Proposals under ESP

  • ESP would allow violator companies to continue their activities by paying a financial penalty.
  • This would then be invested in an "environmentally beneficial project or activity" for an affected target group of stakeholders.

(b) Positives

  • Many developmental projects have been stalled to noncompliance with the EIA regime or for preparing an improper EIA. ESP would enable reviving these projects.
  • The "Bad Loans" issue currently plaguing the Banking sector can be substantially resolved through reviving the stalled projects.

(c) Negatives

  • ESP is a clever attempt to legalize EIA violation and gain corporate confidence, thereby allowing violator to damage the environment and circumvent the EIA process.
  • Among all cases filed in the National Green Tribunal (NGT), around 41% are cases where the NGT found faults with an EIA assessment. Thus, EIA violation is a major in developmental projects. Allowing such violators to carry on, defeats the ultimate purpose of EIA.
  • Many experts argue that this indirectly allows pardoning of violations. Rather than building upon the "Polluters Pay Principle", the ESP looks like an attempt to promote corporate development by using a contradictory "Pay and Pollute" principle.
  • MoEFCC stated the notification has a legal basis in two judgments: the NGT and the other by the Jharkhand High Court. But neither of the two judgments condones EIA violations to be regularized post facto nor does it prescribe a way out of these for violators. 
  • Pecuniary payment by the violator cannot just compensate valuation of environmental loss. 
  • Whether the fine amount would be collected properly and utilized for restoration is doubtful. No mechanism has been proposed to utilize the collected funds.
  • ESP provides an escape mechanism to violators. Instead of following an EIA clearance path, they can get away by paying the penalty through specific investment activities.

PARIVESH (Pro-Active and Responsive facilitation by Interactive, Virtuous and Environmental Single-window Hub)

  • PARIVESH is a Single-Window Integrated Environmental Management System. Key features include single registration and single sign-in for all types of clearances (i.e. Environment, Forest, Wildlife and CRZ), unique-ID for all types of clearances required for a particular project and a single Window interface for the proponent to submit applications for getting all types of clearances (i.e. Environment, Forests, Wildlife and CRZ clearances).
The document Environmental Impact Assessment (Part - 2) | 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 - 2) - Environment for UPSC CSE

1. What is an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)?
Ans. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process that evaluates the potential environmental impacts of a proposed project or development. It helps identify and analyze the potential environmental effects of the project, including its direct and indirect impacts on the environment, natural resources, and communities.
2. Why is an Environmental Impact Assessment necessary?
Ans. An Environmental Impact Assessment is necessary to ensure that potential environmental effects of a project are considered and addressed before it is approved and implemented. It helps decision-makers understand the environmental consequences of the project and make informed decisions to minimize or mitigate any negative impacts on the environment.
3. Who conducts an Environmental Impact Assessment?
Ans. An Environmental Impact Assessment is typically conducted by a team of experts, including environmental consultants, scientists, engineers, and other specialists. They assess the potential impacts of the project based on scientific studies, data analysis, and stakeholder consultations.
4. What are the key steps involved in conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment?
Ans. The key steps involved in conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment include scoping, baseline studies, impact prediction, mitigation measures, public consultation, and preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement. Scoping involves identifying the potential impacts and determining the scope of the assessment. Baseline studies gather information about the existing environmental conditions. Impact prediction assesses the potential environmental effects of the project. Mitigation measures aim to minimize or avoid adverse impacts. Public consultation involves engaging with the communities and stakeholders affected by the project. Finally, an Environmental Impact Statement summarizes the assessment findings and recommendations.
5. What are the benefits of an Environmental Impact Assessment?
Ans. The benefits of an Environmental Impact Assessment include the identification and understanding of potential environmental impacts, which helps decision-makers make informed choices. It ensures that projects are designed and implemented in an environmentally responsible manner, minimizing adverse effects on the environment and communities. An EIA also provides an opportunity for public participation and engagement, allowing affected communities to express their concerns and opinions about the project. Additionally, an EIA helps promote sustainable development by considering social, economic, and environmental factors in project planning and decision-making.
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