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The Role and Importance of EIA
The protection of the environment and the management of resources has conventionally been given importance throughout the world, which has increased in recent times. Ancient practices taught people to live in perfect harmony with nature. However, industrialization, urbanization and changing lifestyles over the years have drastically affected the environment, causing pollution and environmental degradation.
What is EIA?
Pollution of air, water and land has led to ecological imbalance and potential health hazards. As a result, regulations were introduced in the form of environmental protection laws and policies. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is one such effort.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is the official evaluation process for identifying, predicting, evaluating and justifying the related ecological, social and biophysical effects of a proposed policy, program or project on the environment. It provides information about the alternatives and measures that should be taken before any commitment, so it helps in making important decisions. The general objective of EIA is to design projects and development activities taking into account the environmental perspective.
Functions of the EIA
The EIA offers the following benefits:
- an opportunity for public participation,
- greater protection of human health,
- the sustainable use of natural resources,
- reduction of project costs and delays,
- minimize the risks of environmental disasters,
- and increased government accountability.
EIA aims, in particular, to optimize a trade-off between development activities and socio-ecological losses. It is a management tool closely linked to the project that provides appropriate environmental information within the stipulated period.
Many countries now have mandatory legislation or policies for environmental impact assessments. In India, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was formally introduced in 1994. Both central and state authorities share responsibility for its development and management. A Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat (SWOT) post-project evaluation analysis report highlights several limitations, such as inadequate selection and scope, ineffective monitoring, and provides necessary guidelines. The legislation offers opportunities to increase public awareness, the initiatives of environmental groups and the business community, and to integrate environmental considerations into plans and policies. Some of the unforeseen threats to the system are poor governance, rapid economic reforms and favoring small-scale units.
The EIA process includes three basic steps:
(a) Preparation of the report: It involves selection, scope and documentation.
The selection determines whether or not an EIA is required, any project in ecologically fragile areas and which is included under the regulation of the coastal zone, requires an EIA.
Scope identifies the concerns and issues that need to be addressed for a particular project. It involves the following steps:
- Baseline Analysis: A comparison of the environmental changes induced by the project with the environmental changes expected without the proposed project is assessed using the baseline analysis.
- Impact prediction: prediction analysis predicts the nature and importance of expected impacts.
- Impact mitigation measures: the Environmental Management Plan (EMP), the risk assessment report and the disaster management plan (if the project involves hazardous substances), the rehabilitation plan (if displacement of people is foreseen) are prepared to suggest corrective measures.
(a) A comprehensive report is prepared summarizing the project description, regional setting, baseline conditions, impact forecast and important findings of the study.
(b) Review and decision-making: The Impact Assessment (IA) division reviews the application accompanied by the EIA and EMP report documents, no objection certificate (NOC), risk assessment and emergency preparedness plan, rehabilitation and details of the public hearing. , clearance from the airport authority and state forest departments, etc. The AI is free to conduct site visits if deemed necessary. Based on the review of the EIA and other information, the AI grants or rejects environmental authorization for the project.
(c) Post-Project Monitoring (PPM) – The PPM ensures implementation in accordance with specified measures while providing environmental clearance (EC). Thus, it performs a double task of identifying the actual environmental impacts of the project and implementing the desired mitigation measures of the EMP.
To address critical issues, political commitment and public participation are essential. Improved effectiveness will also depend on the strength of government agency coordination, integrated decision-making, adequate training for various stakeholders, and supporting infrastructure for purposeful monitoring and enforcement. Methods of conducting environmental impact assessments are regularly reviewed for progressive refinement that not only helps to remove existing limitations but also takes care of future challenges.
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