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Home > Business > Special

Will the draft EIA facilitate environmental clearance?

November 23, 2005

It's unlikely. In fact, it's been argued that the draft Environment Impact Assessment notification will throttle speedy implementation of projects

K P Nyati, Director, Confederation of Indian Industries

The Draft Gazette Notification (No. 992) dated September 15, 2005, whenever finalised will supersede the Environment Impact Assessment Notification of January 27, 1994. The objective of re-engineering the 1994 regime was to cut delays in processing the project proposals for environmental clearance; to simplify the process; to bring in greater transparency; to professionalise environmental scrutiny; and to decentralise decision-making.

On most counts, unfortunately, just the opposite has happened. What's worse is that the proposed regime will not only throttle speedy implementation of industrial projects, but in all probability, will render even existing industry non-competitive and environmentally obsolete.

The Notification states that any change in product mix in an existing manufacturing unit included in Schedule (where 44 categories of developmental and industrial activities are listed) beyond the specified range have to seek prior EC. In today's fiercely competitive and dynamic global market, change in product mix or ratios is a day-to-day reality.

Even putting out newer products in the market is increasingly becoming a matter of survival for many businesses. Seeking prior EC, which may take 10 months or more, will simply evaporate business opportunities for Indian industry. Product cycles globally are becoming shorter. For many companies in the developed world, the products introduced in the preceding two years account for as much as half of their turnover.

Likewise for undertaking modernisation or expansion activities, prior EC is required. To stay competitive, industry has to keep modernising and expanding. Every industry strives to produce more from existing production facilities by de-bottlenecking, line balancing, modifying production processes and equipment and so on. Implementation of such measures can hardly wait.

The assumption that modernisation and marginal expansions will result in greater adverse environmental repercussions is a mere perception. The ground reality is quite the opposite.

Almost all the expansion or modernisation efforts, such as revamping of coke oven batteries, reactors in chemical industry, cement kilns and so on, lead to reduction in fugitive emissions, better product yields, reduction in specific consumption of inputs and auxiliaries such as energy, water, solvents and so on.

Thereby, reducing emissions, wastes and effluents both on-site and off-site. Indeed, more often than not expansion or modernisation activities involve use of cleaner technologies and clean up of existing facilities. The current regime rightly exempts all such modernisations and expansion from seeking prior EC if the pollution load discharged into the environment does not exceed the present levels.

For whatever inexplicable reasons such an environmentally sound provision has been done away with. It should be restored.

Chandra Bhushan, Associate Director, Centre for Science and Environment

The Environment Impact Assessment process was instituted in 1994 to recognise the rights of communities affected by industrial and developmental projects and to create a healthy balance between environment and development. But the process failed miserably. It got mired in the promoter-consultant-bureaucratic nexus and officially the "local community" and "environment" became hurdles in the path of economic progress. The result: they both suffered. Project promoters suffered too as the time required to get EIA clearance became ridiculously long.

To reduce the time taken to grant environmental clearance to projects, the ministry of environment and forest has come out with a draft EIA notification to replace the existing one. Apart from reducing the delays, it has no other objectives.

Everyone knows that the proposed notification is meant to override environmental concerns. What few know is that, it will also not reduce the delays as well, primarily because it has overlooked the reasons for delay. It has been assumed that delays are caused due to "community participation" and "public hearing".

However, the fact is that the delays are the result of bureaucratic centralisation of the entire process at MOEF, the poor quality of EIA reports, the lack of transparency in the process and the lack of administrative and technical capacity within the government to assess projects promptly.

The fundamental reason why the present EIA process fails in all front is because the EIA document is not meant to be an independent document to verify the social and environmental impact of projects and, therefore, their viability. Rather it is designed to justify projects irrespective of their social and environmental impact.

It is no different in the proposed notification. Till the time EIA reports remain what they are, one can be rest assured that public protest and litigation will remain an inherent part of the process, and hence, lead to more delay.

The biggest hurdle in this entire process -- the lack of administrative and technical capacity within the government -- has not been addressed at all. The project clearance mechanism will still depend on a committee, which will do all the work and meet once in a month to clear projects.

Just for giving the terms of reference for preparing the EIA report, this committee will require 60 days time. Overall, in the proposed process the time required would be no different than the existing one. It's high time the government recognises that regulations costs money and a good regulatory mechanism requires capacity within the regulatory body itself to do most of the work efficiently and transparently.

Expert committees are to add value to the work and to act as an overseeing agency to make the process transparent and fair. Unless this structural change is bought in our regulatory regime, implementation will remain poor and ineffective.

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