In a major policy change, the environment ministry will conduct environment impact studies for big ticket projects instead of the project proponents.
The environment impact study (EIA) forms the basis for ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) to approve or reject a project. Under the existing rules, the project proponents are required to get the EIA conducted through an accredited agency.
The environment ministry wants to change the format for projects in eco-sensitive zones and multi-sectoral projects. It will mean that for projects in eco-sensitive zone of Ganga or huge investment projects such as Posco, the ministry will get the EIA studies conducted. Posco is a multi-sectoral project as the company is developing a steel plant, a captive power plant and a port.
An environment ministry committee in August 2010 had said the EIA for bauxite mining for Vedanta refinery in Lanjigarh did not study full impact on the local hydrology.
It also failed to evaluate the socio-economical impact on local and their cultural heritage.
The EIA did not had data on quality of water resources, impacting of mining on surface water from Nyamgiri Hills and had no maps to show impact of mining on the hill.
An environment ministry committee in 2010 said the original EIA failed to provide a realistic picture of impact of a steel plant, a captive power plant and a port in Jagatsinghpur district.
Three members of the four member committee had citied deficiency in data in the EIA for scrapping the environment clearance, which the ministry did not agree.
“We will ask the agencies to conduct the studies rather than depending on project proponents for the EIA,” environment minister Jairam Ramesh said. “It will not require any change in the rules”.
The move is aimed to make the EIA impartial as there is perceived conflict of interest in project proponents also evaluating the impact of the project on environment. “No company says that its project will adversely impact the environment. Most of the EIAs are on the steps companies will take to reduce the impact on environment,” said a senior ministry said.
Also questions have been raised over EIAs conducted for major projects such as Posco’s Steel Plant and bauxite mining for Vedanta in Orissa and Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant in Maharashtra. There have also been instances of similar appearing EIAs been submitted for different projects. “We have tried to improve the EIA by getting the consultants accredited,” Ramesh said.
To start with, the ministry will conduct EIAs for projects being proposed in over 50 ecologically sensitive areas and projects coming up in coastal belt.
Adding another dimension to environmental governance, the ministry has decided to conduct cumulative impact assessments of all major river basins and eco-sensitive zones done to estimate their carrying capacity.
One such assessment has been done by IIT Roorkee for rivers Bhagirathi and Alakananda in the Ganga river basin. The IIT has recommended restrictions on allowing number of hydro power projects on these rivers and ensure a minimum water flow. “The assessment will be the bible for EAC before deciding a project on these two rivers,” Ramesh said. The EAC evaluates each project for environment clearance and submits its recommendations to the ministry.