Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is a planning tool to integrate the environmental concerns into developmental process right at the initial stage of planning and suggest necessary mitigation measures. EIA essentially refers to the assessment of environmental impacts likely to arise from a project.
The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change is the nodal Ministry for notifying the EIA Notification under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 (EPA) gives power to the Central Government to take all measures that it deems necessary or expedient for the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing and controlling abating environmental pollution. To meet this objective, the Central Government can restrict areas in which any industries, operations or processes or class of industries, operations or processes shall not be carried out or shall be carried out subject to certain safeguards [Section 3 (2)(v)]
EIA Notification first time came into existence on 27th January, 1994 requiring prior environmental clearance for 29 categories of projects/processes listed there under. It was subsequently made applicable to 32 categories.
EIA Notification, 1994 required projects to obtain environmental clearance based on investment criteria (originally it was Rs. 50 crores, which was enhanced to Rs. 100 crores), except for mining project, where the lease area and nature of mineral were the criteria for applicability of the Notification.
Review of EIA Notification, 1994 was undertaken based on recommendations of a project by World Bank as well as by Govindrajan Committee on Disinvestment.
The present EIA Notification was issued on 14th September, 2006.
All new projects or activities listed in the Schedule to this notification; expansion and modernization of existing projects or activities listed in the Schedule to this notification with addition of capacity beyond the limits specified for the concerned sector, that is, projects or activities which cross the threshold limits given in the Schedule, after expansion or modernization; any change in product – mix in an existing manufacturing unit included in Schedule beyond the specified range.
The objectives of EIA Notification, 2006 inter alia include: (i) to formulate a transparent, decentralized and efficient regulatory mechanism to integrate environmental concerns into developmental process with a view to facilitating sustainable development. (ii) to ensure incorporation of necessary environmental safeguards at planning stage in the project cycle, so as to ensure minimal impact on different components of environment. (iii) to ensure involvement of stakeholders in public consultation process through public hearing and to ascertain the views of the public on the proposed project or activity.
The salient features of EIA Notification, 2006 inter alia include: (i) The EIA Notification, 2006 has categorized the projects into two categories namely; Category ‘A’ and Category ‘B’ based on their impact potential.
(ii) Category ‘A’ projects will be appraised at the Central level while Category ‘B’ project at the State level.
(iii) State level Environment Impact Assessment Authorities and Committees (SEIAAs and SEACs) have been constituted for the purpose of appraisal of Category ‘B’ projects.
(iv) The stage of scoping for prescribing terms of reference by the Regulatory Agency for the EIA studies has been incorporated in accordance with the International practice. It is expected to improve the quality of EIA thereby improving the quality of decision making and minimizing the delays.
(v) The public consultation process has been made more structured. It has two components i.e. comments through correspondence and by public hearing at site. Provision to videograph the proceedings of the public hearing has been made.
(vi) NOCs from other regulatory agencies such as SPCB etc. are not a pre-requisite for considering application for environmental clearance.
The environmental clearance process comprises of four stages, namely, Stage (1) Screening; Stage (2) Scoping; Stage (3) Public Consultation and Stage (4) Appraisal.