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Environmental Impact Assessment

 First, let us understand what is the environmental impact assessment. See, environment impact assessment is basically a management tool, which will help us estimate the potential damage that a large scale development project can do to the environment. It basically helps us to understand the environmental impact of the development project and it also provides for mitigation measures and strategies. So, environment impact assessment is a tool that helps us in promoting the principle of sustainable development and it helps us in balancing the opposing objectives of promoting economic growth and promoting environmental conservation. This exercise will help us in assessing the impact of the environmental issues of a project and it also suggests the mitigation measures.
So this concept was introduced in India in 1978. For River Valley projects,  later in 1994. The first environmental Impact Assessment notification was issued by the Government of India under the provisions of the Environment Protection Act of 1986. This notification of 1994 was later superseded by the EIA notification of 2006, which continues to be in effect, and the Union Ministry of Environment and forest has proposed a draft EIA notification, which proposes to update the environmental impact assessment notification of 2006. Now, let us understand how the environmental impact assessment process works in India. See the notification of 2006 divided the development projects into different schedules and categories. The notification says that All projects that come under Schedule-1 they have to ly obtain environmental clearance Schedule-1 projects are further divided into Category A and Category B and environmental clearance for Category A projects is provided by the expert appraisal committees that are constituted under the Ministry of Environment and Forests. So, for Category A projects under Schedule-1, the environment approval is granted by the central government. Whereas for Category B projects, the state-level expert appraisal committee can further divide the category into B1 one and B2. So, the categorization of these projects is left to the state government. And accordingly, all projects that fall under the B1 category, need to obtain environmental clearance that is granted by the state-level expert appraisal committee. Whereas Category B2 projects are exempted from the environmental impact assessment process. So the EIA notification of 2006 provided for decentralization and it has divided the powers to grant environmental clearance between the center and the state. The whole process of obtaining environmental clearance constitutes four different stages. This includes screening, scoping, public hearing, and appraisal. The most important feature of the EIA notification of 2006 is that it introduced the concept of the public hearing, and is considered the local community as a stakeholder while determining the environmental viability of a project.
Now the question is, who is responsible for conducting the environmental impact assessment for a project? See this responsibility lies with the project proponent himself. The project proponent is responsible for conducting the environmental impact assessment. For this purpose, he can see the help of consultants, institutions, such as the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, the Energy Research Institute, and even private consultants they provide these services. So the project proponent needs to hire these consultants and prepare the EIA report. This environmental impact assessment report has to be submitted by the project proponent to the central or the state appraisal committees depending on the categorization of the project. And it is the responsibility of the project proponent or the investor to identify under which schedule does this project fall under and accordingly follow the EIA rules which were laid out in 2006.
So this is how the EIA process looks like. The project proponent begins by selecting the site for the project. But while selecting the site, he needs to ensure that the proposed site does not fall under an ecologically sensitive zone, or under the coastal regulation zone. If it falls under any such regulated zones or divisions, then it is the responsibility of the project proponent to select an alternate site. Once the proposed site has been finalized, the project proponent needs to carry out the environmental impact assessment. This report has to be prepared by the project proponent, and he can seek the help of consultants if required. This report will contain the details of environmental damage that the project might cause. And it also suggests suitable mitigation measures.
Next, the project proponent should apply for a no-objection certificate with the Central Pollution Control Board, which is responsible for arranging public hearings. These public hearings, consider the local community as a stakeholder in the project, and it provides them an opportunity to raise their grievances and their objections against the project. They can even see clarification from the project proponent. These public hearings are heard by the public hearing committee that is headed by the district collector or the Deputy Commissioner of the district. Based on these public hearings, and based on the feedback received by the local community, suitable changes are suggested to the project, which has to be inculcated by the project proponent once the public hearings are completed, or no objection certificate is issued by the State Pollution Control Board, and similar approvals have to be obtained by the project proponent from other authorities as well, such as the state forest department. Now, the project proponent can submit all these documents along with the EIA report to the environmental appraisal committee. For Category B projects, the decisions are made by the state-level expert appraisal committee and for Category A projects. The decisions are made by the expert appraisal committees that are constituted under the Ministry of Environment and Forests. These expert committees can either accept the project or they can reject the project or they can even suggest suitable changes to the project based on the EIA report and other clearances provided by the project proponent. So the project proponent can begin the project only after obtaining the environmental clearance certificate from the expert appraisal committees.

 Now, let us understand what updates are being suggested by the draft notification to the EIA notification of 2006. See under the existing rules, the local community should be given a minimum time of 30 days to respond. The draft notification proposes to bring down this period to just 25 days. So this will reduce the time available for the local community to respond and bring up their objections against the project. Then under the current rules, the entire process of a public hearing has to be completed within 45 days. The draft notification proposes to bring down this period to 40 days. So the main objective of the draft notification is to speed up the environmental clearance process by cutting down on the time that is available for public hearings. So this will help speed up the execution of projects, which is good for growth, but by reducing the time available for public hearings, it affects the ability of the local community to raise its objections against the project.


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