Environmental protection and resource management has conventionally been given importance all over the world which has increased in recent time. The ancient practices taught people to live in perfect harmony with nature. However, industrialization, urbanization and changing life styles over the years have affected environment drastically in causing pollution and environment degradation.
What is EIA
The pollution in air, water and land has lead to ecological imbalance and potential health hazards. As a result, regulations in the form of laws and policies on environmental protection were introduced. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is one such effort.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is the official appraisal process to identify, predict, evaluate and justify the ecological, social, and related biophysical effects of a proposed policy, program or project on the environment. It provides insight on alternatives and measures to be adopted before any commitment, thus helps in important decision-making. The overall objective of the EIA is to design developmental projects and activities taking into consideration the environmental perspective.
Functions of EIA
The EIA provides the following benefits:
- an opportunity for public participation,
- increased protection of human health,
- the sustainable use of natural resources,
- reduced project costs and delays,
- minimized risks of environmental disasters,
- and increased government responsibility.
EIA particularly aims to optimize a trade-off between developmental activities and socio-ecological losses. It is a management tool linked closely to the project providing appropriate environmental information within the stipulated time.
Many countries now have mandatory legislation or policies for environmental impact assessments. In India Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was formally introduced in 1994. Both central and state authorities together share the responsibility of its development and management. An post project evaluation analysis report drawn on Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat (SWOT) highlights several constraints, such as improper screening and scope, ineffective monitoring and provides necessary guidelines. The legislation provides realization of opportunity for increasing public awareness, initiatives of environmental groups and business community and to integrate environmental consideration into plans and policies. Some of the unforeseen threats to the system are poor governance, rapid economic reforms and favors to small-scale units.
EIA process involves three basic steps:
(a) Preparation of the report: It involves screening, scoping and documentation.
Screening determines whether EIA is required or not, any project in ecologically fragile areas and falling under coastal zone regulation, requires an EIA.
Scoping identifies the concerns and issues to be addressed for a particular project. It involves the following steps:
- Baseline analysis: A comparison of project-induced environmental changes with the expected environmental changes without proposed project is assessed through baseline analysis.
- Impact prediction: The prediction analysis forecasts the nature and significance of the expected impacts.
- Impact mitigation measures: Environmental Management Plan (EMP), risk assessment report and disaster management plan (if hazardous substances are involved in the project), rehabilitation plan (if displacement of people is anticipated) are prepared to suggest remedial measures.
(a) A comprehensive report is prepared which summarizes the description of the project, regional settings, baseline conditions, impact prediction and important findings of the study.
(b) Review and decision-making-The Impact Assessment (IA) division reviews the application accompanied by the documents of EIA and EMP report, No objection certificate (NOC), risk assessment and emergency preparedness plan, rehabilitation plan, details of public hearing, clearance from airport authority and state forest departments, etc. The IA is free to conduct site visits if considers necessary. Based on the EIA review and other information, the IA either grants or rejects the environment clearance to the project.
(c) Post Project Monitoring (PPM) -The PPM ensures the implementation in accordance with the measures specified while providing the environmental clearance (EC). Thus, it performs a dual task of identifying the actual environmental impacts of the project and implementation of the desired mitigation measures of the EMP.
To address the critical issues political commitment and public participation is indispensable. Improved effectiveness will also depend on strength of government agency coordination, integrated decision-making, adequate training to various stakeholders and supporting infrastructure for purposeful monitoring and enforcement. The methods of conducting environmental impact assessments are regularly revised for progressive refinement that not only help remove existing constraints but also take care of future challenges.