Definition of Environment Impact Assessment:

The International Association for Impact Assessment describes an environmental impact assessment as “a mechanism to determine, forecast, evaluate and mitigate the biophysical, cultural and other related effects of development initiatives prior to the adoption of major decisions and commitments”.

“A systematic process of identifying future consequences of a current or proposed action.” The process is- Transparency, Certainty, Participation, Practicability, Electricity, Cost effectiveness, Credibility, Accountability.

The Finnish International Development Agency (FINNIDA)[1], have defined Environment Impact Assessment in the most innovative way in following ways:

1. The Environment Impact Assessment may be defined as a planning tool which is used, together with the project feasibility study to ensure that, the project plan is the optimal economic. Environmental plan, i.e. the plan is environmentally as well as economically sound and thus represents the best approach to planning for development projects in order that continuing economic development will be sustainable. The essential message of the famed UN Brundtland Report of 1987 is that, the only sustainable development is economic-cum-environmental development;

2. The Environment Impact Assessment is not intended to disrupt nor to impede economic development, a project plan which is economic cum-environmental will have a higher benefit/cost ratio than a plan which is not responsive to environmental needs, especially when long term as well as short term effects are considered;

3. The role of Environment Impact Assessment is not just to identify and describe environmental hazards which a proposed project will likely cause if no EPM (Environmental Protection Measures) are included in the project. Rather, the Environment Impact Assessment should specify the necessary EPM and ensure that these EPM are included in the overall project plan as delineated by feasibility study.

Need for Environment Impact Assessment:

Every anthropogenic activity has some impact on the environment, but these activities cannot be stopped, because human beings cannot survive, without taking up these activities for his food, security and other needs. Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is one such tool available with the planners to achieve the concerned goal.

Principle 17 of Rio Declaration, 1992 also requires the states to follow EIA. It states as follows:

“Environmental Impact Assessment, as a national instruments shall be undertaken for proposed activities that are likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment, and are subject to a decision of a competent national authority.”[2]

The objective of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is to foresee the potential environmental problems that would arise out of a development address them in the projects planning and design stage.

The objectives of EIA described by Council of European Economic Committee are as follows:

“The effects of the project on the environment must be measured in order to take into account issues related to the security of human health, to contribute to the quality of life through an improved environment, to safeguard the diversity of species and to preserve the reproductive potential of the ecosystem as a basic resource of life. According to the EIA, the safest environmental strategy is to avoid negative consequences rather than seek to mitigate them subsequently.”[3]

By using Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) both environmental and economic benefits can be achieved, such as reduced cost and time of project implementation and design, clean-up costs and impacts of laws and regulations.

Origin of Environment Impact Assessment:

The technique of EIA finds its origin from the “precautionary principle” which requires refusal of consent or approval of the developmental activity by the competent authority, if such project poses threat of serious or irreversible environmental damage. To determine the serious or irreversible nature of the environmental effects on the developmental activity, EIA is necessary. The precautionary principle’ mandates that the EIA should be made obligatory for developmental activities which are likely to have significant adverse effect on the environment. In case, EIA reveals that the developmental activity poses threat of serious or irreversible environmental damage, the competent authority must withhold the consent for approval or permission to such activity.

The ‘precautionary principle’ mandates that EIA should be carried not only at the time of commencement of the developmental project development during the operation of the project. EIA involves continuing assessment and evaluation of the environmental effects on the developmental projects as the project is in operation and is not confined to pre-project evaluation of possible environmental effects.

India and Environment Impact Assessment:

EIA, in India started in 1976–77 as the Planning Commission asked the Science and Technology Ministry of the period to examine the projects in the river valley from an environmental point of view. This was subsequently extended to cover those projects which required approval of the Public Investment Board (PIB), but as these were only administrative decisions and lacks statutory backing the Government decided to give it statutory backing under Environment (Protection) Act, 1980. Thereafter, a notification in this regard was issued on 27th January 1994 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 which was subsequently amended on 4th May 1994, 10th April 1997, 27th January 2000 and September 14, 2006 making environment impact assessment (EIA) mandatory for 30 activities. Some practices allowed under the Coastal Regulation Notification Zone 1991 also entail clearance.

Further, Government notifies, from time to time, certain areas in the country as ecologically sensitive and developmental activities to be taken up, these areas are regulated as per the provisions of these notifications. Such as include Coastal Regulation Zone, Doon valley, Murud-Janjira, Dahanud, Namaligarh, Taj trapezium and Aravalli ranges in Gurgaon (Haryana) and Alwar (Rajasthan) districts. Activities to be conducted in forest areas are administered by Forest (Conservation) Act and Wild Life Protection Act.

[1] Guidelines for Impact Association in Development Assistance, Finnish International FINNIDA’s Draft, 1989.

[2] https://www.iaia.org/wiki-details.php?ID=4

[3] “EEC Directive dated 27 June 1985, 85/337/EEC of 27 June 1985 OJL 175/40, 5 July 1985.”