Great Nicobar Island: Environment Impact Assessment : Daily Current Affairs

Relevance: GS-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

Key phrases: EIA, Environmental (Protection) Act 1986, Coastal Regulation Zone Act, 1991, Nicobar Island Project,

Why in News?

  • The details of the recently released draft environment impact assessment (EIA) report for the mega development project in the Great Nicobar Island have raised serious questions related to submission of incorrect or incomplete information, scientific inaccuracy and failure to follow appropriate procedure.

What is Environment Impact Assessment?

  • Environment Impact Assessment or EIA can be defined as the study to predict the effect of a proposed activity/project on the environment. A decision making tool, EIA compares various alternatives for a project and seeks to identify the one which represents the best combination of economic and environmental costs and benefits.
  • EIA systematically examines both beneficial and adverse consequences of the project and ensures that these effects are taken into account during project design.
  • It helps to identify possible environmental effects of the proposed project, proposes measures to mitigate adverse effects and predicts whether there will be significant adverse environmental effects, even after the mitigation is implemented.
  • Properly conducted EIA also lessens conflicts by promoting community participation, informing decision makers, and helping lay the base for environmentally sound projects.

History of EIA in India:

  • For the first time, in the Fourth Five Year Plan 1969-1974 the concern for EIA in national planning of economy was recognized.
  • Under the Fifth Five Year Plan 1974-1979, the National Committee on Environmental Planning and Co-ordination was launched under the Department of Science and Technology for the assessment of matters related to environmental quality.
  • The National Water Policy (NWP), 1987 was framed for the environmental impact assessment of water resources of the country. The National Forest Policy, 1988 have also included in it the objectives of EIA.
  • This was subsequently extended to cover those projects, which required the approval of the Public Investment Board. Till 1994, environmental clearance from the Central Government was an administrative decision and lacked legislative support.
  • On 27 January 1994, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF), Government of India, under the Environmental (Protection) Act 1986, promulgated an EIA notification making Environmental Clearance (EC) mandatory for expansion or modernisation of any activity or for setting up new projects listed in Schedule 1 of the notification.
  • The MoEF recently notified new EIA legislation in September 2006. The notification makes it mandatory for various projects such as mining, thermal power plants, river valley, infrastructure (road, highway, ports, harbours and airports) and industries including very small electroplating or foundry units to get environment clearance.
  • Certain activities permissible under the Coastal Regulation Zone Act, 1991 also require similar clearance. Additionally, donor agencies operating in India like the World Bank and the ADB have a different set of requirements for giving environmental clearance to projects that are funded by them.

EIA process:

Typically, the EIA process begins with screening to ensure time and resources are directed at the proposals that matter environmentally and ends with some form of follow up on the implementation of the decisions and actions taken as a result of an EIA report. The eight steps of the EIA process are presented in brief below:

  • Screening: First stage of EIA, which determines whether the proposed project, requires an EIA and if it does, then the level of assessment required.
  • Scoping: This stage identifies the key issues and impacts that should be further investigated. This stage also defines the boundary and time limit of the study.
  • Impact analysis: This stage of EIA identifies and predicts the likely environmental and social impact of the proposed project and evaluates the significance.
  • Mitigation: This step in EIA recommends the actions to reduce and avoid the potential adverse environmental consequences of development activities.
  • Reporting: This stage presents the result of EIA in a form of a report to the decision-making body and other interested parties.
  • Review of EIA: It examines the adequacy and effectiveness of the EIA report and provides the information necessary for decision-making.
  • Decision-making: It decides whether the project is rejected, approved or needs further change.
  • Post monitoring: This stage comes into play once the project is commissioned. It checks to ensure that the impacts of the project do not exceed the legal standards and implementation of the mitigation measures are in the manner as described in the EIA report.

Case study of EIA of mega development project in the Great Nicobar Island

  • Ecologists and researchers have been raising concerns about this project for over a year, and the recent draft EIA has not been able to allay those fears.
  • There are serious issues of scientific accuracy and integrity where the data presented is concerned.
  • The executive summary mentions that the Galathea port area does not record any coral reefs, whereas the ZSI study appended to the EIA, reports a coral reef spread over 116 hectares in Galathea Bay.
  • Chapter 3 similarly says 330 species of fauna are recorded in the island, while the same ZSI study puts the number at more than double at 695.
  • The EIA says in another place no migratory birds have been reported from Great Nicobar, whereas it is well known that these islands are located along two globally significant bird flyways and more than 40 species of migratory birds have been recorded from Great Nicobar

Concerns related to provision of EIA:

  • The process has been undermined by several factors, including poor quality of information, lack of a mechanism to ensure effective involvement of local communities, and blanket exemption on certain categories of projects for public consultations.
  • One of the major proposals made in the 2020 draft is reduction of the notice period for public hearings from 30 days to 20 days. Several environmental activists and organisations have instead argued that even the 30 day timeframe was inadequate as information failed to reach the stakeholders residing in remote and inaccessible terrains.
  • The major grievance of a number of environmental experts and activists as well as by state governments like Chhattisgarh, is that by limiting public consultation, the draft is not in consonance with protecting the rights of tribals, among others.
  • The new draft also proposed that projects having implication for ‘national defence and security’ or having ‘strategic consideration’ will be determined by the central government and are exempt from public hearing. Additionally, all ‘linear projects’ like pipelines and highways in border areas, “falling within 100 kilometres aerial distance from the Line of Actual Control” are exempt from public hearing.
  • Analysts note that by this provision, the government shall have discretion to designate any project as being of strategic importance. Activists in states with crucial resources like uranium, as in Meghalaya, have also opposed this provision.
  • Post-Clearance Compliance: There are several cases where the proponent projects have substantially failed to comply with the rules. The NGT, for instance, imposed fines for non-compliance with environmental conditions on Jindal Power Limited (JPL) and Coal India South Eastern Coalfields (SECL), in March 2020.
  • The 2016 report by Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) on ‘Environmental Clearance and Post Clearance Monitoring’ cited several short-comings in following the conditions of the EC. These included non-obtaining of permission from competent authority for cutting trees; no separate head of account and embarking of funds for Environment Management Plan (EMP); irregular use of ground water; change of scope of work after obtaining the EC; non-construction of rain water harvesting structures and residential facilities for workers; irregularities in relief and rehabilitation; violation in handling of hazardous waste materials; and shortfalls in development of green belt.
  • The new draft EIA, contrary to the 2006 notification — which required submission of the compliance report every six months, proposes annual reports. Environmental experts are of the view that allowing a longer period for filling the compliance report will give an opportunity to project proponents to hide disastrous consequences, which could go unnoticed.
  • In July 2020, a bench headed by NGT Chairperson, observed that the mechanism for monitoring environmental norms was inadequate and hence, required the MoEFCC to monitor EC clearance conditions “on periodical basis, at least once in a quarter.

Way forward:

  • EIAs have often been criticized for having too narrow spatial and temporal scope.
  • At present no procedure has been specified for determining a system boundary for the assessment.
  • Some international agencies have moved almost directly from tried and tested techniques such as cost-benefit analysis to experimental use of integrated assessment with sustainability decision rules/criteria.
  • It is clear that new approaches are needed to improve our ability to undertake such integrated assessment.
  • The main purpose of EIA is to facilitate the systematic consideration of environmental issues as part of development decision-making.
  • As has been the aim and intention of environmental legislation throughout the world and in India, to promote and uphold the balance between development and preservation of the environment, it becomes increasingly important to realize the importance of environmental impact assessment towards achieving the goal of achieving the goal sustainable development.

Draft Notification of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020

  • Re-Categorisation of Projects: The draft EIA Notification 2020 re-arranges all the ventures and exercises identified with the creation of mass medications and intermediates for a few diseases from 'A' classification to 'B2' class.
  • The draft expresses that the ventures or exercises can get freedom post facto. It infers that those undertakings can likewise look for leeway that disregard the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (EPA).
  • The new draft absolves different tasks from the EIA including the "essential" projects marked by Government, public thruways and inland streams projects. The Draft EIA states that such activities will be put in open space.
  • One of the major proposals made in the 2020 draft is reduction of the notice period for public hearings from 30 days to 20 days.
  • The Draft additionally excludes up to 150,000 sq m development projects from the appraisal. These activities would now be able to acquire climate leeway after examination by state-level master evaluation advisory group.

Source: The Hindu

Mains Question:

Q. “The basic aim of the Environment Impact Assessment is to strike a balance between the environmental and developmental concerns.” Critically Analyse.