Environmental Impact Assessment or EIA is the method or analysis that estimates the environmental impact of a planned industrial/infrastructural project. It prevents approval of the proposed activity/project without proper supervision or taking into account any adverse consequences

India’s new draft EIA has been widely criticized for its problem-stricken rules changes. Experts claim that most of the clauses in the current EIA draft are proving to be a regressive deviation from the previous edition.

The Delhi High Court has now extended the public input period for the new EIA draft until August 11th.

  • History of EIA

India notified its first Environmental Impact Assessment Criteria in 1994, under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, providing a legal structure for controlling activities that access, use and affect natural resources. In 1986, in the aftermath of the Bhopal Gas Disaster, the then government had enacted the Environmental Protection Act.

Once the legislation is passed, all construction proposals have to go through environmental approval through the EIA process. The projects are evaluated based on their possible environmental effects and are granted or refused approval based on these evaluations.

The 1994 EIA was replaced with the draft amended in 2006. It was further redrafted by the MoEFCC on 12 March this year to make the existing standards “more transparent and expedient.”

  • Important Changes

The two most important changes in the new EIA draft are provisions for project post-facto clearance and abandonment of the doctrine of public trust.

Projects that work in violation of the EPA will now seek clearance.

This draft is a reiteration of a notice from March 2017 for manufacturing units and other enterprises that are running without approval.

In the event of violations, all that a violator needs to do is two remediations and resource increase plans to correspond to 1,5-2 times the “ecological damage assessed and the economic benefit derived from the violation”

This means that the violator under the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) process is only responsible for the remediation and resource increase equal to 1,5-2 times of the ecological harm and the economic gain generated from the violation in cases of a violation identified by a government authority or by the regulatory authority processing an application.

As for the late applicants, the project developer shall pay a fee of Rs 2,000-10,000 per day for the delay time.

The new draft also states that violations can only be identified by the government itself and the project sponsor, and not by individuals. The draft says violation cases will be dealt with, based on the suo motu project developers, revealing that they have breached the law. That means relying on the project developers to disclose when they have breached the law.

  • The disputed EIA waivers

The latest draft exempts a list of projects within the EIA’s ambit. Clause 26 of the EIA draft exempts 40 different kinds of businesses from the need for prior environmental clearance. This includes initiatives that the Government marks as ‘strategic.’

The draft also notes that “these projects are not to be put in the public domain” Linear projects in border regions such as roads and pipelines are also removed from the list. The ‘border region’ is described as ‘area falling within 100 kilometers of the aerial distance from India’s bordering countries’ line of actual control, which could cover much of the northeast.

New building projects of up to 1.50,000 square meters are also excluded from EIA requirements. Furthermore, all projects on inland waterways and national highways are excluded from prior approval.

  • The Real Problem With EIA

Activists argue the government’s new draft makes it easier for industries to escape accountability for the environment.

Conservationists argue that the new draft dramatically limits the reach of the EIA by reclassifying sectors that do not need environmental approval, reducing public participation, and normalizing environmental violations.

On the other hand, project developers complain that the EIA regime has dampened the liberalizing spirit, leading to red tape (excessive bureaucracy) and rent-seeking.

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