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Environmental Impact Assessment

PART I: Background

The city of today is a major performer for the secondary sector of the economy. Manufacturing and processing facilities not only provide the city with the essential commodity inputs but also provide the means of living for the populace. Of late, ad-hoc decisions for industrial development have led to an adverse impact on the local environment at costs which are much higher than the benefits actually accrued. In view of the deteriorating environmental conditions in and around industrial townships, it has become necessary to account for the environment while planning for such areas.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a relatively new planning and decision making tool first enshrined in the United States in the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. It is a formal study process used to predict the environmental consequences of any development project. EIA thus ensures that the potential problems are foreseen and addressed at an early stage in project planning and design.

Environmental Assessment is taken up in this exercise as a rapid assessment technique for determining the current status of the environment and identifying impact of critical activities on environmental parameters. Based on this analysis we can draw up an Environmental Management Plan that would ensure impact monitoring and mitigation planning.

Environmental Assessment enables us in carrying out Environmental Cost-Benefit Analysis of projects at an initial stage. It is thus a pre-cursor to detailed analysis of environmental impacts, which are taken up only if a need for the same is established. It gives a view of the actors involved in the `development-environment linkages. This is required in view of the fact that the community at large is always at a loss in terms of deterioration of living environment that accompanies industrial development. Based on Environmental Assessment, the regulatory measures can be identified and the roles of concerned agencies defined for achieving more efficient environmental management.

In view of the fact that development is an ever growing process, its impact on the environment is also ever increasing, leading to rapid deterioration in environmental conditions. As such Environmental Assessment provides a rational approach to sustainable development.

Extensively developed rapid assessment techniques often avoid carrying out of detailed studies which need more resources in terms of time and money. This exercise is an attempt in developing an approach to Environmental Assessment technique, primarily for industrial townships.

PART II: Assessment of Environment - Background and Process

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) may be defined as a formal process used to predict the environmental consequences of any development project. EIA thus ensures that the potential problems are foreseen and addressed at an early stage in the projects planning and design.

The phrase `Environmental Impact Assessment comes from Sec. 102 (2) of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 1969, USA. Some rudiments of EIA are implicit even in early examples of environmental legislation. Napoleon in 1910 issued a decree which divided noxious occupations into categories: those which must be far removed from habitations, those which may be permitted on the outskirts of towns, and those which can be tolerated even close to habitations, having regard to the importance of the work and the importance of the surrounding dwellings.

In India, the environmental action formally started with the participation of late Smt. Indira Gandhi in the UN Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972. A National Committee on Environmental Planning & Coordination (NCEPC) was established to be the apex body in the Department of Science and Technology. The term `Environment figured for the first time in the Fourth Five Year Plan (1969-74) which recorded that `harmonious development is possible only on the basis of a comprehensive appraisal of environmental issues. The Tiwari Committee (Committee on Review of Legislative Measures and Administrative Measures), in its report in 1980, recommended creation of a Department of Environment as a nodal agency to ensure environmental protection, to carry out environmental impact studies of proposed development projects, and to have administrative responsibility for pollution monitoring and control. The department came into being in 1980 within the Ministry of Science and Technology under the charge of the then Prime Minister. In 1989 the subjects of wildlife and forestry were added to the list and a new Ministry of Environment and Forests was created with the Prime Minister holding its charge. Since its inception the Department (under the Ministry) has issued various guidelines on EIA for various projects.

EIA, in brief, extrapolates from scientific knowledge to assess the problem consequences of some human interventions on nature. Although EIA uses the techniques of science, it differs from ordinary scientific inquiry, because it is dealing with events which have not yet occurred, may not occur, and whose chances of occurrence may be changed by the very statement that they may occur.

Some measures are required to be taken in the future to reduce the anticipated environmental degradation. Before starting a major project, it is essential to assess the present environment without the project, and the likely impact of the project on the environment, when it is completed. Therefore, an Environment Impact Assessment has to be made before starting a project. For analysis of environmental impacts, many professions and disciplines have to be involved. Like economic and engineering feasibility studies, Environmental Impact Assessment is a management tool for officials and managers who make important decisions about major development projects. The Environmental Impact Assessment should have the following objectives:

  1. Predict environmental impact of projects
  2. Find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts
  3. Shape project to suit local environment
  4. Present the predictions and options to the decision-makers

The EIA statement should cover brief description of project, brief description of existing environment, likely impact of project, the mitigation and protection measures, consideration of alternatives, and summary with conclusions.

Manu and Anshu, SEEDS India
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