Environmental Impact Assessment - Public participation in EIA

Conclusion on Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) :

The literature reveals that the EIA Notification contains many of the key elements found in most processes throughout the world including screening, scoping, comprehensive study, progress reports, review, decision and follow-up. However, from the lack of reference to project need, purposes and alternatives, a reasonable inference is that the process reflects a narrowly focused, technical approach, rather than the more broad, open and anticipatory approach called for in some quarters and found in some countries (Gibson 1993; Wood 1995). In addition, reviews of the implementation of the notification are somewhat mixed. Banham and Brew (1996) indicated in their assessment that there is reason to be optimistic about the use of EA in India. While others, such as Dwivedi (1997) and Thakur (1997), suggested that the process is still in its early stages of development and that India lacks many of the institutions and knowledgeable government officials necessary to make the process work properly. An important aspect of the 1994 EIA notification is its relation to other policy instruments in India's environmental management system.
However, a close look at the EIA in India reveals that some improvement is needed in the following aspects. EIA's are controversial in India because of little participatory democracy in the formulation and implementation of environmental legislation. There have been cases where, more than one EIA for the project has been approved by an authorized agency and subsequently revoked by judicial action initiated by public interest litigations (The Hindu Survey of Environment). A fresh outlook at the EIA requirement is essential, especially a public review, which would help in the development of a sound normative framework for guiding the entire process. It is also unclear as to how an EIA is to be prepared, what norms it must satisfy how it is to be approved. The requirements for EIA in India are generally comprehensive and include information on land use pollution sources in air, water and solid waste quality. But the problem arises here because of no proper set of guidelines for project types covered by the rule. With the promoter's own assessment, the regulatory authority is to make a judgment if EIA is complete and if the project meets the environmental standard. It is quite essential that the regulatory authority periodically review the norm with scientists, NGOs and industry. Measurement techniques and location where the standard is to be met are not specified, leaving it for interpretation from both, the plant engineer and government inspector. This makes the project promoter to adopt the lenient interpretation of the norms during EIA preparation. The EIA and environmental clearances fall within the power of the Center but the implementation of pollution control is with the states. This leads to a scenario where multiple agencies sharing similar responsibilities without well defined roles. Some cases of plagiarized reports by the consultants have been reported in India (The Hindu Survey of Environment).
Another major improvement required is in the area of public involvement. There has been dilution of previous notifications especially regarding public participation. For instance, a recent amendment to the EIA requirements that was notified on 13 June 2002 exempts pipeline projects from preparation of EIA reports. This has further weakened the process of environmental clearance. It also violates the basic premise of authority granted by the Environment Protection Act, 1986. Yet, public hearings need to be conducted in all the districts from where the pipeline will pass. This poses two problems: firstly, it is not clear how an EMP (Environment Management Plan) and Risk Mitigation measures can be formulated when the developers have not studied the potential impacts of a proposed pipeline through preparation of an EIA report. Secondly, on what basis would persons attending a Public Hearing relating to a pipeline project voice their concerns? Both the routing and the construction of pipelines can have severe consequences on people and their environment. Pipeline projects may create unnecessary hardship to local people due to construction work, and pipeline leaks are a potential hazard. Both routing and construction can cause unnecessary and severe damage to sensitive ecosystems. But if these projects are exempted from the EIA process, no other mechanism ensures adequate review of these potential consequences. Curiously, the June 2002 amendment reconstitutes the requirement that EIA reports must be made available to the public prior to the Public Hearings, a requirement that was done away with earlier.
There are other examples. The 1994 notification, made it mandatory for the Impact Assessment Agency (IAA), i.e. the Ministry of Environment and Forests to consult a Committee of Experts before granting environmental clearance to a particular project. In its present amended form the notification states that the IAA may consult the Committee of experts if deemed necessary. The 1994 notification made it mandatory for half-yearly compliance reports prepared by the project authorities to be made publicly available. The notification now leaves it to the discretion of the IAA to make complaint reports publicly available, "subject to public interest". Clearly, the recent amendments are resulting in the dilution of the law on environmental impact assessments. However, for pipeline project, Environmental Impact Assessment report will not be required. But Environmental Management Plan including risk mitigation measures are required."
The case studies coupled with our earlier analyses, demonstrate that substantive, early investments (during the scoping phase itself) in public participation can benefit the project proponent, the public and the final plan. An effective public participation programme does not happen by accident; it must be carefully planned. As the case studies show, a proactive effort will lead to a more effective process and outcome than a reactive, minimalist approach to public involvement. We draw upon the results of the case studies to provide suggestions for improving public participation programmes in EIA. First, public involvement needs to begin before project planning and decision-making are too far along to be influenced. The decision to participate must be genuine. Otherwise, public participation becomes a procedural exercise rather than a substantive democratic process. Second, public involvement can be used to create a project that is more suitable to, and accepted by, the public. Suitability should depend on public opinions and needs (rather than the technical feasibility of the project). Third, public input can be a crucial and valuable source of expertise before, during and after project planning and decision-making. Moreover, based on the case study experiences it can be seen that the EIA legislation must be more explicit in defining the affected area according to potential socio-economic impacts. Only the authority competent in evaluating socio-economic effects should be given the responsibility


http://coe.mse.ac.in 2003-09. Madras School of Economics - Systems Department