Topic: GS3 – environmental protection.
- Recent environmental incidents in mountainous regions, such as the Teesta dam breach in Sikkim and floods/landslides in Himachal Pradesh, raise concerns about India’s development model and its impact on the environment.
What is Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA):
- Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), a tool defined by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), is used to assess the environmental, social, and economic impacts of projects before their implementation.
- It involves comparing project alternatives, predicting environmental consequences, and proposing mitigation strategies.
Evolution of EIA in India:
- India’s journey with EIA began in the 1970s and evolved over the years, with the 2006 EIA notification being a significant milestone.
- In 1994, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change introduced the first EIA notification, making Environmental Clearance (EC) mandatory for specific projects.
- The 2006 EIA notification decentralized the EC process and underwent multiple amendments.
- Recent Controversy: The 2020 draft EIA notification faced criticism for being perceived as industry-friendly and compromising ecological concerns.
Need for Regional Differentiation and special needs of Indian Himalayan Region (IHR):
- EIA can be a potent regulatory tool for promoting sustainable development in India when used effectively.
- EIA notifications categorize projects, but they lack regional differentiation. The Indian Himalayan Region (IHR), with its unique ecological sensitivities and vulnerabilities, is not treated separately within the EIA framework.
- The graded approach used in EIA for differentiated risk management does not consider the specific needs of the IHR, which is susceptible to extreme weather, seismic activity, and the impact of climate change
- There is no national regulator for EIA, resulting in a process influenced by project proponents, which may not adequately address cumulative impacts or consider the IHR’s special requirements.
- The EIA process reacts to development proposals rather than proactively anticipating them.
- Policymakers should explore alternative tools, such as Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), to address the ecological needs of regions like the IHR and ensure sustainable development.
What can be done to resolve the issue:
- Differentiated Regional Approach: Recognize the unique vulnerabilities and ecological significance of the IHR. Develop specific guidelines and thresholds for EIA in the region, considering its fragility.
- National Regulator: Establish a national-level regulatory body for EIA to ensure independent, objective, and transparent appraisal and approval of projects.
- Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA): Integrate SEA into the decision-making process to assess the cumulative impacts of development in specific regions such as IHR.
- Comprehensive Baseline Data: Ensure that the EIA process relies on comprehensive, reliable, and up-to-date baseline data to predict and assess environmental repercussions accurately.
- Periodic Reviews and Updates: Regularly review and update EIA guidelines to align them with the evolving understanding of environmental issues, technology, and best practices.
- Research and Data Collection: Promote research and data collection in ecologically sensitive areas like the IHR to enhance our understanding of local ecosystems, risks, and vulnerabilities.
The current EIA process in India lacks regional differentiation, particularly for ecologically sensitive areas like the Indian Himalayan Region. It is essential to consider the unique environmental and ecological needs of such regions for effective and sustainable development.
Question: Propose measures and policy reforms to enhance the effectiveness of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), particularly in regions like the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR).