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ROLE AND EFFECTIVENESS OF EIA IN ACHIEVING SUSTAINABILITY

Authors: Nitish Kumar Lenka & Binapani Tandi, IV year of B.A.,LL.B. from University Law College, Bhubaneswar


The term environment has been derived from the French word “Environia” which means "to surround". The environment is just like a container where the organism has to survive and maintain its life process. These surroundings surround living beings from all sides and affect their lives. It consists of atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere and biosphere. Its chief components consist of various natural resources such as air, water, land, animals etc.


It refers to all elements of the physical and biological world. It controls all sorts of living organisms includes human beings. Human beings interact more vigorously with the environment than any other living beings. It plays a pre-eminent role in the life cycle of the human being as human life is highly dependent on the environment. When the whole was about to be healed from the plague, there arises a new concept i.e industrialisation. It came into existence around the 17th century. It has brought economic prosperity stressing on the basic life-supporting system pushing the environment impacts closer to threshold limits of tolerance.


With the introduction of industrialisation and civilisation, the man started to come in close contact with its surrounding and started to disturb it, which resulted in environmental pollution. Human activities are the major cause of degradation of the environment. It affects the environment badly which decrease the quality of the environment which ultimately results in the loss of survival condition on earth. At the same time, overuse of natural resources will create a situation where we will be left with nothing. Environment damage includes pollution of water, air and consequential health problems, loss of biodiversity, deterioration of buildings and monuments, soil fertility loss, desertification, depletion of the ozone layer and many more. The emission of green-house gases imbalance the normal atmospheric temperature on the earth surface. The number of natural calamities is also increasing and almost every year there is flood, famine, drought, landslides, earthquakes, and many more calamities are increasing.


Environment concern has become one of the major concern for all the nations individually or collectively. The human impact on the environment is rapidly increasing over the past century due to population growth, technological development, agricultural expansion and industrialisation. To tackle the ongoing problem of environmental, the concept of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The International Association of Impact Assessment defines EIA as, “the process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social and other relevant effects of development proposals before major decision being taken and commitment made.”


It is generally an effective tool of the environmental management system to approve after analysing the documentation of environmental impact and public opinion to any companies to establish its industries. For the first time in the year 1960, United States of America (USA) commenced it as a part of environment awareness and later in 1969 adopted in National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) which includes scientific assessment and public participation in making environmental decisions. This very term was derived from section 102(2) of NEPA. California was the first American state to apply EIA. It was subsequently adopted by many nations as a protective measure of the environment. The United Nation Conference on the Human Environment (UNHC) known as Stockholm Conference in 1972 and the United Nation Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992 created around 1000 provisions on the environment.


In India, Environment Protection is not a new concept. Its origin and existence can be traced way back to the era of Puranas and Vedas. In many Hindu pieces of literature, Mother Nature is considered as the Supreme God and the entire human race as her children The Vedic literature envisages that there should be a striking balance between man, nature and the God.


The environment of India consists of the world’s most biodiverse eco-zone. It consists of around 7,43,534 sq.km of land as under forests, of which 92 per cent of that belongs to the government. There are 350 species of mammals, 375 reptiles, 130 amphibians, 20,000 insects, 19000 fish and 1200 species of birds and over 17000 species of flowering plants, which account for six per cent of the total plant species in the world. India comprises seven per cent of the world's flora. Environment Pollution is one of the main issues. Being a developing nation it faces the acute problem of climate change. In India, the EIA was introduced after enactment of the National Environment Policy Act, 1970. It controls the activities of private entities. The main aim was to identify and evaluate environmental, social and economic impact on the project. India being the signatory country to the Stockholm Declaration, 1972 enacted laws to control pollution on Air (1974) and Water (1981). But it was only after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.


The Indian Government issued its first Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) in 1994 under the Environment Protection Act (EPA), 1986.


The environment impact assessment consists of eight steps such as:-

· Screening: The first stage speaks whether a proposed project requires EIA and level of assessment requires.

· Scoping: The second stage identifies the key issues and impacts towards the environment which should be investigated and also defines the boundary and time limit of the study.

· Impact analysis: The third stage of EIA identifies and predicts the most likely environmental and social impact of the proposed project on the surroundings and thus evaluates the significance of it.

· Mitigation: the fourth stage is the most important steps in EIA which recommends to reduce and avoid the potential adverse environmental consequences of development activities on the proposed project.

· Reporting: The fifth stage presents the result of EIA in a form of a report to the decision-making body and other interested parties.

· Review of EIA: The sixth stage examines the adequacy and effectiveness of the EIA report and provides the information necessary for decision-making.

· Decision-making: The seventh stage speaks whether to approve, reject or do changes to the proposed project.

· Post monitoring: The last stage comes into play once the project is commissioned. It lastly checks the impact of the project keeping because of legal standards and manner prescribed in the EIA report.


Sustainable Development is a principle of meeting the human needs by proper use of resources to save it for future use. The 20th century EIA strikes a balance between Development and Economics. All sorts of development will have some effects on the environment. Some may be absorbed by nature and some causes severe and irreversible damage to the environment. EIA has been an effective tool for controlling environmental damages at greater extend. With the passage of time and need for economic development, the country has set up a lot of industries to meet its need. Some of the casualty that has occurred such as Chasnala Mining Disaster in 1975, the Jaipur Oil Depot Fire in 2009, the Mayapuri Radiological Incident in 2010, the Ennore oil spill in 2017, Fire at Bandipur Tiger Reserve in 2018, Bhilai Steel Plant Blast in 2018, the Tiware Dam breach 2019 and the Vizag gas leak in May 2020. Due to the regulation of EIA, the country was able to check many such accidents. In one of the cases led by Justices P.N.Bhagwati and Rangnath Mishra, held that permanent resources are not to be exhausted by one generation. It has to be used efficiently to not cause any serious threat to the natural environment.[1]


In another case, the court recognized the concept of Sustainable Development and traces its development in the International Legal sphere, stating that the principle of sustainable development has been accepted as a part of customary International Law. The use and conservation of natural resources, environmental protection, polluters pay principle, precautionary principle, obligation to assist and cooperate, eradication of poverty and financial assistance to the developing countries are salient principles of sustainable development.[2]In March, the Government of India has draft EIA, 2020 which is a disaster. The new draft favour the interests of the project proponent by diminishing public consultations, accepting flawed and faulty EIA reports resulting from external influences and ignoring the non-renewable nature of resources. One of the tribal activists on the forest in Odisha and Chattisgarh named Manohar Chauhan said that the new draft will strengthen discretionary power of government while restraining public engagement in safeguarding the environment.


The draft favours the industries and largely neglect the balance between sustainable development and environment protection. It weakens environmental regulation and silence affected communities. There are two kinds of approval—prior environment clearance (EC) and environmental permission or provision (EP). Certain projects such as clay and sand extraction or digging wells or foundations of buildings, solar thermal power plants and common effluent treatment plants and several other projects such as all B2 projects, irrigation, production of halogens, chemical fertilisers, acids manufacturing, biomedical waste treatment facilities, building construction and area development, elevated roads and flyovers, highways or expressways are exempted from public consultation. Another disadvantage feature is that draft not available in regional languages.

Various loopholes in this draft are

a. POST-FACTO CLEARANCE

When looking into the page 29 point 3 of the draft speaks about post-facto clearance. It excludes reporting by the public to violations and non-compliance. The government will only take reports only from the violator-promoter, government authority, Appraisal Committee or Regulatory Authority. The public has no right to speak about any such disturbance, thus abandoning public trust doctrine.

b. EXEMPTION FROM PUBLIC PARTICIPATION

Public opinion is barred. Any decisions on economic as well as environment shall be only made by the Government. This violates the basic fundamental rights under article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. Public participation provides a platform for the authorities to meet and address the issues faced by the public, thereby promoting a democratic approach and secondly, increases the quality of decision making. One of consequence was in Samrath Trust Case and Sterlite Copper industry case resulted in 11 death.


c. PUBLIC HEARING PROCESS

The time limit for the public hearing has been reduced from 30 days to 20 days. The previous time limit was not sufficient. Then imposing such period make it difficult. It is being mentioned on page 47 point 7.


d. STRATEGIC EXEMPTION

Strategic means any such development in the name of national security. It is the worst new category that does not require hearing Government misused to bypass the public process, compromising transparency and accountability. The government can put the stamp of strategic to avoid obstruction.


e. ADITIONAL EXEMPTION

Page 6 point 3 speaks about it. Linear project in the border area.


Development which caters to the needs of the present generation without pre-empting the ability of future generation to meet their needs is beginning to the recognised policy that should be pursed for ecological, economic, social, ethical as well as political expediency. EIA provides technical policy and to implement those in sustainable development projects. EIA identifies the environmental of future risks, lessens conflicts by promoting public participation and lay base for environmental sound projects. Sustainability can be achieved by the combined action of both environmentalist and policymakers. Environmental practitioners need to ensure that EIA plays an enhanced role in engaging communities in shaping new development in improving the quality of the environment. Even our constitution under Article 51A(g) to protect and improve our environment. The nations demand that government must draft laws so that marginalised communities will prosper and be able to sustain their livelihoods. The COVID pandemic has taught the world a very important lesson. We must focus on the long term health of people rather than making short term environmentally downgraded decisions and at same time converse our resources and properly utilise it so that it won’t cause any sort of problem in future.


[1] Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 1985 AIR 652, 1985 SCR (3) 169

[2]Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India and others, Writ Petition (C) No. 914 of 1991

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