Author: Parth Bathla, FIMT, GGSIPU, Delhi.
Environmental assessment is taken up in this exercise as a rapid assessment technique for determining the current status of the environment and identifying impact of critical activities on environmental parameters. EIA is a relatively new planning and decision-making tool first enshrined in the United States in the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. It is a formal study process used to predict the environmental consequences of any development project. EIA thus ensures that the potential problems are foreseen and addressed at an early stage in project planning and design. Creation of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) system is vital to conform socio-economic development projects to environmental safety and thereby ensure sustainable economic development. In view of the fact that development is an ever-growing process, its impact on the environment is also ever increasing, leading to rapid deterioration in environmental conditions. As such environmental assessment provides a rational approach to sustainable development. It also enables us in carrying out environmental cost-benefit analysis of projects at an initial stage. It is thus a precursor to detailed analysis of environmental impacts, which are taken up only if a need for the same is established. Comprehensive EIA is usually conducted after the rapid EIA and some time after accruing a formal approval. It helps the planning and management to take long-term measures for effective management as well as environment conservation.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.
UNEP defines Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a tool used to identify the environmental, social and economic impacts of a project prior to decision-making. It aims to predict environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to suit the local environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers. By using EIA both environmental and economic benefits can be achieved, such as reduced cost and time of project implementation and design, avoided treatment/clean-up costs and impacts of laws and regulations. EIA systematically examines both beneficial and adverse consequences of the project and ensures that these effects are taken into account during project design. It helps to identify possible environmental effects of the proposed project, proposes measures to mitigate adverse effects and predicts whether there will be significant adverse environmental effects, even after the mitigation is implemented. By considering the environmental effects of the project and their mitigation early in the project planning cycle, environmental assessment has many benefits, such as protection of environment, optimum utilisation of resources and saving of time and cost of the project. Properly conducted EIA also lessens conflicts by promoting community participation, informing decision makers, and helping lay the base for environmentally sound projects. Benefits of integrating EIA have been observed in all stages of a project, from exploration and planning, through construction, operations, decommissioning.
Evolution of EIA
EIA is one of the successful policy innovations of the 20th Century for environmental conservation. Thirty-seven years ago, there was no EIA but today, it is a formal process in many countries and is currently practiced in more than 100 countries. EIA as a mandatory regulatory procedure originated in the early 1970s, with the implementation of the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) 1969 in the US. A large part of the initial development took place in a few high-income countries, like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (1973-74). However, there were some developing countries as well, which introduced EIA relatively early – Columbia (1974), Philippines (1978).
The EIA process really took off after the mid-1980s. In 1989, the World Bank adopted EIA for major development projects, in which a borrower country had to undertake an EIA under the Bank’s supervision (see table 1: Evaluation and history of EIA).
Components of EIA
The difference between Comprehensive EIA and Rapid EIA is in the time-scale of the data supplied. Rapid EIA is for speedier appraisal process. While both types of EIA require inclusion/ coverage of all significant environmental impacts and their mitigation, Rapid EIA achieves this through the collection of ‘one season’ (other than monsoon) data only to reduce the time required. This is acceptable if it does not compromise on the quality of decision-making. The review of Rapid EIA submissions will show whether a comprehensive EIA is warranted or not. It is, therefore, clear that the submission of a professionally prepared Comprehensive EIA in the first instance would generally be the more efficient approach. Depending on nature, location and scale of the project EIA report should contain all or some of the following components :
• Air Environment
– Determination of impact zone (through a screening model) and developing a monitoring network
– Monitoring the existing status of ambient air quality within the impacted region (7-10 km from the periphery) of the proposed project site
– Monitoring the site-specific meteorological data, viz. wind speed and direction, humidity, ambient temperature and environmental lapse rate
– Estimation of quantities of air emissions including fugitive emissions from the proposed project
– Identification, quantification and evaluation of other potential emissions (including those of vehicular traffic) within the impact zone and estimation of cumulative of all the emissions/impacts
– Prediction of changes in the ambient air quality due to point, line and areas source emissions through appropriate air quality models
– Evaluation of the adequacy of the proposed pollution control devices to meet gaseous emission and ambient air quality standards
– Delineation of mitigation measures at source, path ways and receptor
• Noise Environment
– Monitoring the present status of noise levels within the impact zone, and prediction of future noise levels resulting from the proposed project and related activities including increase in vehicular movement
– Identification of impacts due to any anticipated rise in noise levels on the surrounding environment
– Recommendations on mitigation measures for noise pollution
• Water Environment
– Study of existing ground and surface water resources with respect to quantity and quality within the impact zone of the proposed project
– Prediction of impacts on water resources due to the proposed water use/pumping on account of the project
– Quantification and characterisation of waste water including toxic organic, from the proposed activity
– Evaluation of the proposed pollution prevention and wastewater treatment system and suggestions on modification, if required
– Prediction of impacts of effluent discharge on the quality of the receiving water body using appropriate mathematical/simulation models
– Assessment of the feasibility of water recycling and reuse and delineation of detailed plan in this regard
• Biological Environment
– Survey of flora and fauna clearly delineating season and duration.
– Assessment of flora and fauna present within the impact zone of the project
– Assessment of potential damage to terrestrial and aquatic flora and fauna due to discharge of effluents and gaseous emissions from the project
– Assessment of damage to terrestrial flora and fauna due to air pollution, and land use and landscape changes
– Assessment of damage to aquatic and marine flora and fauna (including commercial fishing) due to physical disturbances and alterations
– Prediction of biological stresses within the impact zone of the proposed project
– Delineation of mitigation measures to prevent and / or reduce the damage.
– Studies on soil characteristics, existing land use and topography, landscape and drainage patterns within the impact zone
– Estimation of impacts of project on land use, landscape, topography, drainage and hydrology
– Identification of potential utility of treated effluent in land application and subsequent impacts
– Estimation and Characterisation of solid wastes and delineation of management options for minimisation of waste and environmentally compatible disposal
•Socio‑economic and Health Environment
– Collection of demographic and related socio-economic data
– Collection of epidemiological data, including studies on prominent endemic diseases (e.g. fluorosis, malaria, fileria, malnutrition) and morbidity rates among the population within the impact zone
– Projection of anticipated changes in the socio-economic and health due to the project and related activities including traffic congestion and delineation of measures to minimise adverse impacts
– Assessment of impact on significant historical, cultural and archaeological sites/places in the area
– Assessment of economic benefits arising out of the project
– Assessment of rehabilitation requirements with special emphasis on scheduled areas, if any.
– Hazard identification taking recourse to hazard indices, inventory analysis, dam break probability, Natural Hazard Probability etc.
– Maximum Credible Accident (MCA) analysis to identify potential hazardous scenarios
– Consequence analysis of failures and accidents resulting in fire, explosion, hazardous releases and dam breaks etc.
– Hazard & Operability (HAZOP) studies
– Assessment of risk on the basis of the above evaluations
– Preparation of an onsite and off site (project affected area) Disaster Management Plan
•Environment Management Plan
– Delineation of mitigation measures including prevention and control for each environmental component and rehabilitation and resettlement plan.
– Delineation of monitoring scheme for compliance of conditions
– Delineation of implementation plan including scheduling and resource allocation.
The stages of an EIA process will depend upon the requirements of the country or donor. However, most EIA processes have a common structure and the application of the main stages is a basic standard of good practice.
The environment impact assessment consists of eight steps with each step equally important in determining the overall performance of the project. Typically, the EIA process begins with screening to ensure time and resources are directed at the proposals that matter environmentally and ends with some form of follow up on the implementation of the decisions and actions taken as a result of an EIA report. The eight steps of the EIA process are presented in brief below:
- Screening: First stage of EIA, which determines whether the proposed project, requires an EIA and if it does, then the level of assessment required.
- Scoping: This stage identifies the key issues and impacts that should be further investigated. This stage also defines the boundary and time limit of the study.
- Impact analysis: This stage of EIA identifies and predicts the likely environmental and social impact of the proposed project and evaluates the significance.
- Mitigation: This step in EIA recommends the actions to reduce and avoid the potential adverse environmental consequences of development activities.
- Reporting: This stage presents the result of EIA in a form of a report to the decision-making body and other interested parties.
- Review of EIA: It examines the adequacy and effectiveness of the EIA report and provides the information necessary for decision-making.
- Decision-making: It decides whether the project is rejected, approved or needs further change.
- Post monitoring: This stage comes into play once the project is commissioned. It checks to ensure that the impacts of the project do not exceed the legal standards and implementation of the mitigation measures are in the manner as described in the EIA report.
EIA in India
The Indian experience with Environmental Impact Assessment began over 20 years back. It started in 1976-77 when the Planning Commission asked the Department of Science and Technology to examine the river-valley projects from an environmental angle. This was subsequently extended to cover those projects, which required the approval of the Public Investment Board. Till 1994, environmental clearance from the Central Government was an administrative decision and lacked legislative support.
On 27 January 1994, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF), Government of India, under the Environmental (Protection) Act 1986, promulgated an EIA notification making Environmental Clearance (EC) mandatory for expansion or modernisation of any activity or for setting up new projects listed in Schedule 1 of the notification. Since then there have been 12 amendments made in the EIA notification of 1994.
The MoEF recently notified new EIA legislation in September 2006. The notification makes it mandatory for various projects such as mining, thermal power plants, river valley, infrastructure (road, highway, ports, harbours and airports) and industries including very small electroplating or foundry units to get environment clearance. However, unlike the EIA Notification of 1994, the new legislation has put the onus of clearing projects on the state government depending on the size/capacity of the project.
Certain activities permissible under the Coastal Regulation Zone Act, 1991 also require similar clearance. Additionally, donor agencies operating in India like the World Bank and the ADB have a different set of requirements for giving environmental clearance to projects that are funded by them.
This Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process for the proposed third 400 kV Transmission line between Poseidon and Grassridge Substations and extension of the existing Grassridge Substation has been undertaken in accordance with the EIA Regulations published in Government Notice R1182 to R1184 of 5 September 1997, in terms of the Environment Conservation Act (No 73 of 1989), as well as the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA; No 107 of 1998).
The essence of any EIA process is aimed at ensuring informed decision-making and environmental accountability, and to assist in achieving environmentally sound and sustainable development. In terms of NEMA (No 107 of 1998), the commitment to sustainable development is evident in the provision that “development must be socially,environmentally and economically sustainable…and requires the consideration of all relevant factors….”. In addition, the preventative principle is required to be applied, i.e. that the disturbance of ecosystems and loss of biological diversity are to be “… avoided, or … minimised and remedied” and “disturbance of the landscape and the nation’s cultural heritage is avoided and where it cannot be altogether avoided is minimised and remedied”.