Environmental Impact Assessment - Public participation in EIA

Effectiveness of Public Participation in India
The purpose of EIA should not be just to assess impacts and complete an environmental impact statement (EIS); it is to improve the quality of decisions. Through informing the public the project proponent can make environmentally sensitive decision by being aware of a project's potential adverse impacts on the environment. Another purpose of EIA is to inform the public of the proposed project and its impacts. In this context public participation provides crucial information. Through their participation the project proponent will be able to take advantage of the information that citizens contribute concerning values, impacts, innovative solutions and alternatives. There are other reasons why public should be involved in EIA. The literature puts forth four basic positions (Shepherd and Bowler, 1997). First, public participation is regarded as proper, fair conduct of democratic government in public decision-making activities (Gelhorn, 1971; Fox, 1979). Second, public participation is widely accepted as a way to ensure that projects meet citizens' needs and are suitable to the affected public (Pearce et al., 1979; Forester 1989; Tauxe, 1995). Third, the project carries more legitimacy, and less hostility, if potentially affected parties can influence the decision-making process (Chapin & Deneau, 1978; Susskind & Cruikshank 1987). Finally, the final decision is `better' when local knowledge and values are included and when expert knowledge is publicly examined (Parenteau, 1988; Webler et al., 1995).
Some argue that it is better not to include the public in EIA as it will be quicker and most cost-effective to exclude the public in EIA. Project proponents eager to implement their project may fear that citizen involvement will delay their schedule or force them to revise the project (Portney, 1991). Public participation may be regarded as unnecessary because citizens lack project-specific expertise and it is just necessary to educate citizens about the merits of the project (Fischoff et al., 1981; Krimsky & Plough, 1988). To the project proponent, it may look more prudent to push the project through quietly rather than run the risk of a public process. However, excluding the public does not ensure expediency either. Alienated citizens tend to delay the implementation of the project though time consuming legal action if they feel that their rights are curbed through project implementation (example see the case studies on Silent Valley, Tehri Dam, Dahanu in this section). Therefore, the project proponent needs to consider not only the risks of including versus avoiding citizen input, but also the potential benefits of establishing a long term co-operative relationship with citizens.


Scope for public participation in India
Table 3 gives the role of different actors in different stages of EIA. It can be seen from Table 3 that public participation in India occurs too late in the decision-making process and at this stage it is not possible to influence any of the characteristics of the project (like type, size or location). Though the public is involved at the hearing stage, here it is merely a formality as by this time the project proponent more or less has decided to go ahead with the project. The objective of public involvement at this stage may be just to defend a decision that has already been made. So far, citizen involvement in India has been limited to public hearing stage, legal action to halt the project or to force the inclusion of mitigation measures (see the case studies). Grima (1985) notes that the later that public participation occurs in the EIA process, the higher the risk that public comments will only minimally influence the final decision. Secondly, public participation is extremely limited and takes place before project implementation. But the project planning and implementation requires continuous involvement of the public during various stages. Several studies have revealed serious deficiencies in the hearing process too (Sinclair and Diduck, 1999). To add to this problem, information available on the EIA process could assist people in understanding the purpose and objectives of EIA is scant and not user friendly because the summary documents are written in technical language without providing a glossary of key terms.

Even for projects that have already received their no objection certificates the public does not have access to EIA project reports and environmental management plans (Sinclair and Diduck, 1999). In regard to the hearings themselves, there is no indication prior to the hearings of what procedure was going to be followed or how the hearing panel was chosen. Assistance for members of the public on how to participate, e.g., how to prepare a brief report or how to make a presentation is also not made available. There is no background information too provided on what an environmental impact study should contain or how to critique such a document. Obtaining expert assistance was not promoted in any way and funding is also not available to public participants. Members of the public have to cover their own "traveling and incidental costs" (Sinclair and Diduck, 1999). Finally, there is no indication of how public input provided at the hearings is going to be used in the decision making process. 


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