MoEFCC: Draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification,2020- Issues of Scoping

28062020
Rajesh Deoliya
[rajeshdeoliya@gmail.com]


Environmental Clearance & Buildings : A confusing mess of ...In formulating the draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification (EIA),2020,the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Government of India states that the directions of high courts and National Green Tribunal (NGT)  has helped in realizing necessary environmental safeguards by assessing environment impacts due to the proposed projects, that require Prior Environment Clearance at the planning stage itself, the Central Government seeks to make the process more transparent and expedient through implementation of online system, further delegations, rationalization, standardization of the process, etc.;
However, para by para perusal of the draft EIA notification,2020 illustrates that MoEFCC is easing out process of grant of environmental clearance and becoming industry friendly, but in doing so it is also compromising the environmental concerns. There are many such areas in this draft notification where this can be seen. In this discussion, however, we will focus on SCOPING:
In the environmental clearance process, Scoping is an important part it decides the Terms of Reference for grant of environmental clearance. Based on the data provided in the Pre-feasibility report and Form-I (which encompasses various attributes of proposed project related with construction, air, water, land, forest, pollution load, production and transportation of raw material and end product, process description etc). These information help expert appraisal committees to provide general and specific conditions for studies to prepare Environmental Impact Assessment Report and Environment Management Plan popularly called as EIA/EMP Report. The day by day degrading environment and concerns of changing climate require a delicate approach of assessment and grant of environmental clearance to industries using or producing material which generate pollution. Hence, the scoping attains significance role in environmental clearance process.
Draft Environmental Impact Assessment Notification-2020:
In India environmental clearance, currently, is granted as per the guidelines of EIA Notification,2006. Now the MoEFCC, Government of India is proposing an amendment in thise EIA Notification. The draft notification,2020  takes care of various amendments brought in after the notification of 2006. A perusal of the draft indicate that various attempts have been taken to simplify the environmental clearance process to satisfy long dissatisfaction of project proponents about the delay in environmental clearance. However, in doing so the issues of safeguard of environment is given back seat. The draft notification, 2020 keeps the A, B1 and B2 categories of EIA notification, 2006 for approval of projects. However, the 8 broad project types  A, B1 and B2 categories of Notification, 2006 are regrouped in the draft EIA Notification, 2020 in 42 project types and 145 sub - project types. A summary is given in the following table

No. of Project Types
No. of Sub -Project Type
A
B1
B2
Total
42
47
53
45
145

Since, scoping plays an important role in the safeguard of environment from the particular project activity, lack of scoping for B2 projects is major concern. Such projects will be granted Environmental Permission (EP) instead of Environmental Clearance. In the absence of scoping the project proponent will receive  EP on the basis of limited data of project in Form -1 supplemented with  Form 1B2, EMP, mining plan ( for mining project), District Survey Report and Cluster certificate by regulating authority ( i.e Pollution Control Board).  The clause-10 (3) of draft notification specifies that Prior EP process for category ‘B2’ that are not required to be placed before Appraisal Committee as specified in the schedule ( a list of projects), will comprise of a maximum of two stages. The stage -1 involves preparation of EMP report and stage -2 involves verification of completeness of the application by the Regulatory Authority to grant the environmental permission for a project. It is to mention that out of the 45 projects listed in the B2 group only two project i)  mining of the minor mineral more than 2 Ha and less than 5 Ha and ii) Building Construction and Area Development projects  having > 50,000 sq. mtrs. and < 1, 50,000 sq. mtrs. of built-up area  will be appraised by appraisal committee i.e District Expert Appraisal Committee. It is to be noted that the B2 group has some projects which are frequently blamed for environmental degradation i.e sand mining and Highway projects. In the absence of critical reviewing system there is fear that the incidences for damage to environment will increase which will not be a good practice in the days of sustainable development goals and climate change concerns.
Anticipated Increase in B2 Category Projects:
It is envisaged that the provisions of draft notifications if followed, will lead to increase in B2 category projects in phased manner. We will try to understand this through 1. Standalone clinker grinding units 2. High way projects.
    1. Standalone clinker grinding units:
In the schedule of project category of draft notification, standalone clinker grinding units are listed at serial number 11 (b). It is listed in both the category i,e B1 and B2. If its clinker production capacity is more than 1 million tonne per annum then the project will fall in B1 category and if clinker production of standalone grinding unit is  less than one million tonne then the project will fall in B2 category.  The smart investor planning for 2 million tonne clinker grinding unit will opt for setting up the grinding unit in two phase of one million tonne each. If he plans a two million tonne grinding unit then his project will fall in B1 category where he will have scoping, EIA and EMP report preparation, public hearing and appearance before the expert appraisal committee and instead, if he plans same in two phase he will save time, avoid the lengthy process of environmental clearance. Since the project proponent will be making an Environmental Management Plan, nobody will have baseline data to monitor the pollution load and its effect on surroundings. However, this in future may lead to conflict with community.  
     2. High Way projects:
 In the B2 category, the draft notification keeps expansion or widening of existing National Highways or Expressways or Multi-modal corridors or Ring Roads by length between 25 km and 100 km involving widening or right of way more than 70 m on existing alignments or realignments or bypasses (serial number 38 of schedule). Earlier such projects having more than 30 km  length involving additional right of way greater than 20 m, land acquisition and passing through more than one state were considered in 'A' category project and were appraised by Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEFCC at central level. Now such projects are part of B2 category where no scoping is required and only Environment Management Plan is sufficient for approval by regulating authority. It is not clear what will happen about the tree felling, land acquisition process, forest clearances, record of bio-diversity and endangered species etc. Because these parameters are considered in detail in A and B1 category projects. In highway projects also, practice may be followed to make multiple projects of less than 100 km on single highway to skip the lengthy process of environmental clearance in A and B1 category.

  Conclusion:
If above mentioned fears are not addressed then the environmental clearance process will lose its objectivity on one hand but also trouble the project proponents on other hand as they will be involved in the conflicts with community because of the possible damage to their surroundings and sufferings from project related nuisances, which no body would like.
We should hope the MoEFCC will address the issue of project scoping properly so that the environmental clearance process is fast but will also serve its purpose.

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Disclaimer: 

The views expressed here are of writer only and do not belong to any organization, associated with.






















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Comments

P K Dwivedi said…
Very important issue, need to be addressed to keep overall objectivity of EC process.
Thanks for step by step process's for Environment clearance.

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