One of the reasons why the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) introduced the Notification on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in 1994 was perhaps to create new business avenues for environmental consultants to monitor laboratories and related assignments. In fact, as per the Notification, EIA reports were required for projects listed in a Schedule based on certain thresholds (the logic of which is not known even today) and the project proponents looked for agencies that could help them get Environmental Clearance (EC) at the least cost and in the shortest possible time.
The consulting fraternity in India responded to this need and mastered the art easily, using technology from Microsoft – i.e. MS Word (with control C and control V being the main tools). During the EC process, committees were created at the State and Central levels, and members of such committees got an opportunity to showcase their expertise and ask questions so that the EC process resembled a long tunnel – the journey being in “darkness”. When Public Hearing was included in the EC process, it opened another Pandora’s Box – creating a role for environmental activists.
Some truly believed, and naively so, that the ‘impact of EIA’ in India had been a positive one and ensured that major developmental projects included environmental and social considerations to reduce risks and add a value. If one were to ask project proponents and consultants today, they would be able to quote very few instances or case studies wherein real benefits of EIA had been realized. Getting an EC ‘somehow’ has been the main driver in most cases.
EIA in India has not yet seen the maturity that the country deserves. In many cases EC has been a political process and not that of scientific inquiry. ECs are issued on project basis – i.e. isolated – and not on cumulative or regional considerations. Who cares for the carrying capacity? Tools like Strategic Environmental Assessment that are legislated in many countries are not even discussed. Integration of Climate Change (CC) in the EC process of
large projects is not even thought about yet. Now that MoEF has a new name with CC added to it, consideration to Climate Change should be given in the EIA process. Am I being too optimistic here?
So since 1994, more than 2 decades now, has EIA benefited India in helping improve our projects (concept, scale, design, siting and technologies) and protect/conserve our environment? Has EIA provided better alternatives? It’s time that we do an impact assessment of EIA in India.
For Students – You may like to visit websites of State Environmental Appraisal Committees and analyze the statistics on EC, time taken for clearance, conditions stated and cumulative impacts that are not considered.
Visit http:// www.greenclearancewatch.org/ in particular.