By Dr. Mritunjay Chaubey
With the intention to replace the existing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has published the draft EIA Notification 2020 on 23rd March 2020 for public opinion. The EIA makes a scientific estimate of the likely impacts of a project, such as a mine, irrigation dam, industrial unit, or infrastructure projects.
The first EIA Notification had come in 1994. After 14-years, this is an opportunity for us to make EIA norms to ensure sustainable development.
Key Changes in the Draft EIA Notification 2020 from EIA Notification 2006
Projects Exempted from Public Consultation
Among the major departures from existing regulations is the removal of following projects from the public consultation:
- Offshore and onshore oil, gas and shale exploration
- Hydroelectric projects up to 25 MW
- Irrigation projects between 2,000 and 10,000 hectares of command area
- Small and medium mineral beneficiation units
- Small foundries involving furnace units
- Small and medium cement plants
- Expansion or widening of highways between 25 km and 100 km
- Aerial ropeways in ecologically sensitive areas
Reduced Notice Time for Public Hearing
The draft EIA Notification 2020 gives a “minimum of 20 days” of notice-period for public hearing whereas EIA Notification 2006 specifies a “minimum of 30 days” for people to respond.
Post-Facto Approval of Violations
The EIA Notification 2020 excludes reporting by the public of violations and non-compliance. Instead, the government will take cognizance of reports only from the violator-promoter, government authority, appraisal committee, or regulatory authority. Such projects can then be approved with conditions, including remediation of ecological damage.
Extension of EC Validity Period for construction
In Draft EIA Notification 2020, validity period of Environmental Clearance (EC) for construction of the following projects has been extended:
- Mining Projects: The validity period is extended to 50-years from the existing 30-years.
- River Valley Projects, Irrigation Projects, Nuclear Power Projects: The validity period is extended to 15-years from the existing 10-years.
- All Other Projects: The validity period is extended to 10-years from the existing 5-years.
Annual Compliance Report Submissions
For a granted EC, the project proponent as per Draft EIA Notification 2020 requires submitting one compliance report in a year whereas existing EIA Notification 2006 mandated two compliance report submissions every six months in a year.
Suggestions for Changes in Draft EIA Notification 2020
The concept of the establishment of the EIA process is very good to balance between environment and development. The main issue raised against EIA from industries and project proponents is unnecessarily delayed in environmental clearances. Some of the suggestions are listed below for changes in draft EIA Notification 2020. Once we will include the below suggestions, we may make our environmental clearance process faster and ensure environment-friendly sustainable development.
Category Change for Notified Industrial Estate Projects
All projects under notified industrial estate may be moved under the B2 category since EIA of the notified industrial estate has already done and EC granted by the competent authority. This will ensure fast environmental clearance and reduce the load on the expert appraisal committee.
Incorporate the Amendment Done in EIA Notification 2006
Based on the need and justifications several amendments were done in EIA Notification 2006 from 2006 to 2020 like product mix change amendment, corporate environment responsibility fund maximum limit, etc. We should incorporate all those amendments in draft EIA Notification 2020.
Revisit the Infeasible Norms
Some of the infeasible norms like Zero Liquid Discharge and 33% green-belt within factories need to be revisited and applied after a feasibility study.
Faster Environmental Clearances
We should fix the maximum time limit to grant EC. Also, we should fix the time limit to release EC once EAC recommends EC for a particular project.
Embed Sustainability and Climate Change Impact in EIA
Sustainability and climate change impact must be embedded in the EIA and EC process. Projects may be cleared on fast-track who have a good track record of publishing sustainability report as per GRI standard, RC logo holders, good international sustainability score holder of DJSI, and FTSE. The project proponent may be asked to report material issues in EIA report and disclose the sustainability goals, targets, and action plan to meet sustainability goals. The performance of sustainability may be tracked through an annual compliance report submitted by the project proponent to MoEF&CC.
The concept of establishment of the EIA process is very good for sustainable development but it can not be used as a tool to delay the project or derail the development due to some vested interest. With present draft EIA Notification 2020, neither NGOs are happy nor industries are appreciating it. NGOs are unhappy by the exclusion of some of the projects from the public consultation, post-facto approval, extended EC validity time period, and reduced notice time for the public hearing. Industries want faster environmental clearances, re-visit of infeasible norms, and motivation and encouragement for embedding sustainability into projects.
By not considering the sustainability and climate change impact in the decision-making processes of EIA, the proposed notification goes against the mandate given to the government under Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986, Rio Declaration on Environment and Development 1992, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
Embedding sustainability into EIA is the best opportunity for businesses to drive smarter innovation and profitable sustainable growth. To analyze the full scope of sustainability into EIA, we can use the lifecycle cost analysis tool. To reach a final decision the different indicators have to be normalized and weighted to integrate the indicators into a single final objective, which makes the search for a sustainable solution a multi-objective optimization problem. Sustainability ensures a fair society while living within environmental limits and creating sustainable profitable growth.
About the Author
Dr. Mritunjay Chaubey is the Global Vice President – Environment, Sustainability, and Green Cell with UPL Limited. He is a sustainability, environmental, and water & wastewater treatment expert of international repute. He has done a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi.
He has nearly 24- years of professional working experience in renowned MNCs Pentair, Shell, Unilever, and UPL. Dr. Chaubey has made a unique position in the corporate world by embedding sustainability and reducing the environmental footprint of such big corporates. Currently, more than 100 environmental protection sustainable technologies, designed by him, are successfully working in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, and South America.
Dr. Chaubey is an Editorial Board member of the renowned international journal “Research Journal of Chemistry and Environment” as well as “Arab Water World”. He is also a member of the Bureau of Indian Standards for making BIS Standards for water & wastewater treatment and environmental protection. More than 50 technical papers have been published in renowned international journals and conferences with his name.
Recently, he was awarded as “Most Influential Sustainability Leader” and also as “CSO of the Year”.
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