Impact Assessment of Environmental Impact Assessment

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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:// http://www.greenclearancewatch.org/ in particular.

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28 thoughts on “Impact Assessment of Environmental Impact Assessment

  1. It would be a good idea! even european union did an impact assessment of the EIA Directive http://ec.europa.eu/environment/eia/review.htm It is one of the oldest EU environmental regulation (created in 1985), and has already been amended thrice in 1997, 2003 and 2009, and the recent impact assessment to which i contributed proposes to amend it once again.

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    • Thanks Shailendra, In 1999, we did at Environmental Management Centre a study for the World Bank captioned “Effectiveness of EIA in India”. I can share this report if anyone is interested.

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      • what about about the impacts – environmental and social impacts of of the whole EIA preparation process and EC procedures/processes and practices? e.g., producing voluminous reports with little or no value addition, impacts on economy of approving projects based on control ‘c’ and control ‘v’ versions, meaningless reviews and delays due to rent seeking behaviors of certain individuals…lack of transparent decision making process…. the list can go on…..

        think, would be useful to assess impacts of NOT following the current EIA processes/practices… what do you think?

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  2. Very nice & thought provoking article. Indeed, as long as “Obtaining An EC” remains the ultimate goal, the real benefits, impacts etc. of a project would go un-noticed. The EC notification needs a change at DNA level, bringing out the logic of schedules enshrined therein.

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  3. I have been attending appraisal committee meeting since 1994, don’t see any major change in the quality of Environmental Impact assessments and the assessors. The EC stipulates few conditions which makes no sense and most the time it is the same set of conditions irrespective of the type of project and location of the project.

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    • Paresh. Good point. I did an exercise of comparing EC conditions across sectors and found that most of these conditions were “boiler plate” , too general. Some of these conditions could have been stated without an EIA. These conditions to my mind should be stipulated as default by the concerned line ministries and State departments as good practices

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have different views on what we have achieved through EIA. I was chairing concluding session of Workshop Complexity of Environmental Regulations: CRZ, RRZ and EIA
    organized by NEERI on 10th- 11th Jan 2014 at Y B Chavhan Pratishtha in Mumbai. I have uploaded my remarks on U-tube at http://youtu.be/N-lqlaV5HCw

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    • Dear Vijay

      Thanks for sharing the video clip. I notice that you have an optimistic note.

      Fundamentally, most regulations are set for a purpose and hence there are benefits. You need regulations to ensure that there are processes to control, guide and bring in the key stakeholders together. EIA notification is not therefore an exception. The point is how effective has been the Notification and how well is it being administered?

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      • Dear Prasad, I compelled to be optimistic as I have seen constraints and limitations of the system. Implementation mechanism for EC is centered around Expert Appraisal Committee. In recent order NGT has expressed dis-satisfaction about EAC composition vide order dated July 17, 2014. Experts are not aware of objectives and scope of EIA process and inclined to raise issues just to exhibit their domain expertise. Chairman is rarely able to prevail on proceedings. I am not aware if in any country appraisal bodies are expected to review 30 to 40 proposals in single sitting. We need to have re-look at our implementation mechanism and augment the same, to start with, in terms of number of persons in organizations like MOEF&CC, PCBs, etc.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Dr. Kulkarni, you hit the nail on the head. The voluminous no. of proposals expected to be reviewed by EACs / SEACs per sitting is indeed an issue, coupled with EAC members stressing on their expertise domain.

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    • Today’s Business Standard: Article on Government Planning to clip National Green Tribunal’s Wings – “On several occasions in the past two years, the tribunal has hauled up several environment ministry officials, as well as state authorities, for falling foul of law. In a recent judgment, the tribunal even criticised the environment minister for non-application of mind in a case. However, only in rare cases has the NGT sent the project clearance back for re-appraisal or suspended it.In another recent judgment, the NGT had held it illegal to hire the services of retired bureaucrats as chairs of the statutory expert appraisal committees that review projects for environmental clearances.” Hence, MOEF now proposes to review NGT Act and limit powers vested in NGT. This is “real world” in which our EIA and EC process work (?).

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      • The EIA System definitely needs overhaul but it should be done by strengthening rather than by weakining the bodies created for improving the system !
        NH

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      • Dear Narendra

        Thanks for chipping in. Couldn’t disagree with you. How many training programmes do we see in the EIA arena? How many post grad institutes in India offer full course on EIA? How many trained faculty exist in EIA? How many teaching case studies have been developed and made available based on numerous EIA studies that have been carried out? For a country of the size of India, the accent of the day on infrastructure development, we are terribly short when answering these questions. Three years ago, I prepared a blueprint of a project acronymed EtKon (standing for EIA Training and Knowledge Network) where the idea was to establish a national program on capacity building in EIA with 12 institutions. The project was sponsored by the World Bank. Unfortunately, EtKon did not come through – thanks to the maze of procedures at the World Bank. I plan to revive this work done. Let us meet in Mumbai and take forward

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      • Dear Prasad, I feel that our EIA training programmes are aimed at “Functional Area Experts” whereas we need to have more training programmes for “EIA Coordinators”. This will help in understanding importance of “Scoping”, will do away with bulky baseline data section, will help everyone to understand significant environmental aspects, impacts and mitigation measures.

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  6. Sir, Thanks for starting the blog. I am really delighted that I will be able to gain so much following it.

    My view is that, in India, EIA and EC are synonymously used. It is as if both are the same thus the ‘EIA notification’. EIA for me is a scientific study to simply identify and assess risks to the environment from any activity or event, EC is a permit and ‘EIA notification’ is only a regulatory process which results in getting an EC with riders. In my opinion EIA can only be effective if it is perceived to be tool that aids decision making process and not a means to get EC. It should be used differently by different stakeholders, like for businesses it can be an excellent tool to anticipate business risks while for the government it could help in land-use planning (regional EIA). In addition to the several issues that you and others have shared, one aspect that needs real attention is the quality of consultancy organisations that undertake EIA studies. Most of the consultancy organisations claim that they are expertise in EIA whereas they do not have a complete EIA team. The EIA reports end up being prepared by 1-2 team members and in most cases them being generalists. In our selection process we specify the field experts who should be part of the team, consultants manage to compile some profiles as well, but how much they are involved in the EIA is questionable. The EIA co-ordinators normally do not have any clue on how to use the experts while assessing the impacts. The field experts end up writing long sections of the baseline chapter which never gets used in impact assessment. Three fourth of the EIA reports are baseline and one fourth being rest of it. The ‘EIA Notification’ to a great extent is responsible for this. Scoping, which is an important stage of any EIA study has been reduced to standard TORs. I think businesses have greater responsibility in improving the EIAs. In most cases businesses are engaging consultants for EIA studies but have not been demanding good quality output. The businesses think this is only a means to obtain ECs. If businesses are able to perceive that there are far greater benefits from EIA than only EC, I am sure there can be lot of improvements in this sphere.

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    • Dear Debashish – I fully endorse your views. Amongst others, poor capacity of EIA consultants has been a problem. Countries like China came up with certification programs for EIA consultants with mandatory training followed by examination. A separate training institute has been established for this purpose. Besides, EC in China has two stage process of clearance for certain category of projects – one where EIA report is approved and second when EMP to be implemented is approved. This is because the EMP proposed in stage 1 clearance is more conceptual. Training and certification of EIA consultants are different for stage 1 and 2. For example, EMP in stage 1 will say that “noise barriers will be constructed along the highway from location X to Y” but in stage 2 clearance, design and drawing of the noise barrier will have to be provided for clearance.

      There is also a need to build capacity at the end of project and investment managers on EC and how to make use of consultants. I am conducting a 2 days course on this topic on September 4/5 in partnership with Malaviya National Institute of Technology in Jaipur. I would like to invite you to join us and share your experience. We will need to do more of such events.

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    • Dear Debashish, I fully agree with you. I had voiced similar views in Workshop on Complexity of Environmental Regulations: CRZ, RRZ and EIA Organized by NEERI on 10th- 11th Jan 2014 in Mumbai. I have uploaded this on utube as – EIA Evolution in India – http://youtu.be/Bl6z0DfT3Lc.

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      • Sir, it would be my pleasure to be part of the workshop. I think China seems to have beaten us in this aspect as well. The two stage process, I am sure is very effective. The EMP proposed as part of EIA is very generic and written in a manner which would seem that all the worlds best practices will be adopted. When the conceptual & detailed design stage come many of the proposed measures are missed out. Though we have a gated process still lot of measures proposed got missed out or the designs were faulty. If detailed design as in case of China is approved by regulators, I am sure lot more would get implemented on ground.

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      • Sir, I am happy that my views are similar to someone with so much experience and who has witnessed the evolution of environment management in India. I hope your initial remarks on environment management not being a liability for businesses rather is an opportunity is accepted by more businesses in India.

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    • Hello VS sir and Prasad sir

      Fundamentally, the EIA process has to be integrated in the Physical planning process, which is altogether lacking in our project formulation process itself.

      My experience of carrying out DPRs and Techno-Economic Viability / bank appraisals for industrial as well infra projects are more to seek financial clerance and approvals and a design for implementation.

      The assessment of project alternatives cannot be done post facto as already the project is more or less freezed. The banks also looks into only the clerance document from the PCB as one of the clearances required for the projects. As rightly said in the comments, the conditions stipulated are more verbatim in nature, which even without an EIA could be laid down.

      Its essential at this stage to look into the EIA process as an integral part of project formulation which could reduce the project gestation and proactively address and guide the developers in a right direction. This would also enable to build capacities in addressing the env issues at the project promoters end.

      Also, as indicated in the comments, the experts tend to exercise the domain strength and lack a multidisciplinary perspective and moreso lack a total understanding of EIA objectives, processes and the utility of tools.

      The average EIA clerance duration has increased from months to years which is badly hitting the economy.

      I remember refering EIA by Bindu ..Lohani..which was tge first document by The ADB. I would like to drive the point tio bring in EIA procedures to be vital in tbe banks procedures enabling assessment of alternatives in project design stage itself. This would save a lot of load in EC clearances and time as well.

      It was not possible to do so earlier , but definitely today the financial institutions , banks , NBFCs etc do have the wherewithal to do so.

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      • The NABET for EIA idea has been emerged from one of the recommendations of a study carried out by Consultancy Development Centre under a DSIR project on “Consulting Capabilities in Environmental Management in India.”. I happen to be a member of the Project Review Committee.

        The whole purpose was to strenghthen the processes by improving overall capabilities of mushrooming consultants carrying out EIA studies. Secondly, given the skills and tools required to carry out EIA for various sectors needs capabilities to discern the project attributes and the identification, prediction of impacts. Fundamentally , a thorough knowledge which is basic essential competency on the use of tools, to analyse, evaluate and assess the impacts of alternatives was low; thirdly, to identify measures to mitigate, and budget and provide a blueprint to actually implement the measures was also required.

        There is found to be gap between addressing the issue in capabilities vis-a-vis practice.

        The process of accreditation could have been made very simple, similar to that of certified energy auditor.

        This process of certifying is very objective and can reproduce a similar result on testing .

        The current process is quite subjective and depends on the knowledge and wisdom of the assessing committee as also on the information provided by the individial candidate going for EC or FAE and the documentation at the Candidate organization going for NABET.

        In my view its high time a procedure similar to ICAI / ICSI/ Bar Council or Medical council be made to Recognize and certify EIA practioners.

        The complexity of the current processes of accreditation is leadimg no where as there are many loop holes at the end of EIA counsultants on actual availability, longitivity /retaining of EIA cordinators, the capacities in tools and procedures, etc..Due to which there are cases of termination of the Accreditation of organizations.

        The best way could be to Institute a EIA practioners certifying body. The process could be made similar to the BEE certifying auditor exam, wherein candidates having 3 years experience are eligible to apply.

        For the organizations accreditation they could use the rating agencies viz. Crisil, icra , care rating etc. For getting empanelled for a period of time. The same is being practiced by the Ministry of Power’s regulatory authority the Bureau of Energy Efficiency and even Ministry of Renewable Energy for implementation of solar projects.

        Organizations would have developed capabilities since years, and a periodic assessment and renewal process would ensure continuance of the assignments on hand for clearance using certified EIA practioners.

        The potential for growth and sustainenance of this ector witbout any conflicts or stakholder concerns is pinned down in developing the capabilities, instituting a professional exam for certifying EIA practioners coupled with rating for organizations.

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  7. I am a lay person as far as EIA goes but one of the things I have often wondered is why zoning cannot be done in advance so that industry can locate in zones where it is allowed. Beyond that standards could be set and industry could instead of getting an EC could file a environment compliance statement just as one files an IT return. Some of these could be scrutinized just as in an IT return and there could be heavy penalties including jail time depending on how much environmental damage you have caused. I am sure the EIA lobby would hate this because many consultants wallets will be impacted but I wonder how environment is protected in other countries. Say I want to put a chemical factory in USA which is moderately hazardous what process do I have to go through. If severely hazardous what process and so on.

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    • Dear Sanjay

      We have a policy for siting that addresses where the development is not possible or restricted. Zones like Costal Regulation Zone, Ecologically Sensitive Zones and buffers around Protected Areas have been notified.

      We haven’t done zoning that tells what type of development will be allowed.

      Years ago a project called Zoning Atlas of India was taken up by MoEF with support of the World Bank and GIZ. I was involved.

      Under this project, we came up with a GIS based methodology and application on district scale to recommend what type and scale of industrial development be allowed based on environmental considerations. The recommendations however stayed in reports. Visit http://incaindia.org/INCA-PDF/vol22/46.pdf to see a publication

      Zoning linked to EIA was first attempted in Canada later in Germany and UK. In Asia, application of zoning was carried out in Indonesia and the Philippines.

      Regarding your query on environmental compliance statement, we have something close as Environmental Statement as a statement of self declaration. This Statement is to be filed by September each year to the State Pollution Control Boards.The concept was good but failed miserably. Very few industries file environmental statement today and the statements filed are not analyzed and responded to by the State Pollution Control Boards. I did while at IIT Bombay, an analyses of some 1200 environmental statements and developed a database management system for MoEF. Its all in the “junkyard” now.

      Regards

      Prasad Modak

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