India is the first country, which has made provisions for the protection and improvement of environment in its Constitution. In the 42nd amendment to the Constitution in 1976, provisions to this effect were incorporated in the Constitution of India with effect from 3rd Jan 1977. In the Directive Principles of State Policy in Chapter IV of the Constitution, Article 48-A was inserted which enjoins the State to make endeavor for protection and improvement of the environment and for safeguarding the forest and wild life of the country. Another landmark provision in respect of environment was also inserted, by the same amendment, as one of the Fundamental Duties of every citizen of India. Article 51-A (g) of the Constitution stipulates that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India ‘to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rives and wild life and to have compassion for living creatures’.
Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development have been the cornerstones of the policies and procedures governing the industrial and other development activities in India. During the nineteen sixties, it was realized that the rapid increase in industrial development, urbanization and resource exploitation can cause serious adverse impacts on environment. Hence, planning for development so as to improve quality of life must include environmental concerns.
Ministry of Environment & Forests has taken several policy initiatives and enacted environmental and pollution control legislations to prevent indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources and to promote integration of environmental concerns in developmental projects.
One of such initiatives was the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification issued vide S.O. 60 (E) dated the 27th January, 1994, under the provisions of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to impose restrictions and prohibitions on the expansion and modernization of any activity or new projects being undertaken in any part of India unless environmental clearance has been accorded by the Central Government or the State Government (only for thermal power plants of capacity mentioned in notification) in accordance with the procedure specified in the notification.
In exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section (1) and clause (v) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, read with clause (d) of sub-rule (3) of rule 5 of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 and in supersession of the notification number S.O. 60 (E) dated the 27th January, 1994, except in respect of things done or omitted to be done before such supersession, the Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India issued Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification vide S.O. 1533 (E) dated the 14th September, 2006, directing that on and from the date of its publication the required construction of new projects oractivities or the expansion or modernization of existing projects or activities listed in the Schedule to this notification entailing capacity addition with change in process and or technology shall be undertaken in any part of India only after the prior environmental clearance from the Central Government or as the case may be, by the State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority, duly constituted by the Central Government under sub-section (3) of section 3 of the said Act, in accordance with the procedure specified hereinafter in this notification.
The concept of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been introduced with the objective of achieving a balance between environmental protection and developmental activities. EIA is a planning tool that is now generally accepted as an integral component of sound decision-making. The objective of EIA is to anticipate and address potential environmental problems/concerns at an early stage of project planning and design. EIA/EMP should assist planners and government authorities in the decision making process by identifying the key impacts/issues and formulating mitigation measures.
EIA ensure the identification of environmental impacts of proposed actions right from the planning stage and accounted in the decision making process. It is a means of integrating the environmental dimension within the requirements of social and economic growth, so as to achieve sustainable development.
EIA is a process of establishing the changes in the physical, ecological and socioeconomic components of the environment before, during and after an impending developmental project, so that undesirable effects, if any, can be mitigated.
An EIA has to address the following basic questions:
- What are the environmental issues of the project and the project site? (Identification)
- What will be the extent of the changes? (Prediction)
- Are the changes significant? (Evaluation)
- What can be done about adverse impacts? (Mitigation)
- How can the decision makers and other concerned agencies be informed? (Communication)
The EIA studies for industrial projects could be categorized as site selection studies, Rapid/Comprehensive/Regional EIA and Carrying Capacity Studies. Site selection studies involve evaluation of alternative sites with respect to environmental and economic attributes to rank the site alternatives. Rapid EIA refers to assessment based on one season (3-4 months) monitoring whereas comprehensive EIA refers to assessment based on three season (9-12 months) monitoring for baseline data for the proposed developmental project.
Regional EIA relates to development of industrial complexes (existing/new) based on three season data collection and addresses itself to the analysis of assimilative capacity of major environmental components, viz. air, water and land. The scope of assessment in carrying capacity study is extended to analysis of supportive and assimilative capacities in the regional with respect to resources availability/utilization, supply/demand, infrastructure/congestion and assimilative capacity/residues.
The estimation of carrying capacity provides an operational framework enabling planning for sustainable development. In ecological terms, any level of economic activity that does not exceed the carrying capacity of the planning region is sustainable while human society depends on many ecological and economic resources for survival, carrying capacity is ultimately determined by the single vital resource in least supply. Carrying capacity may be viewed as the ability to produce desired outputs (goods and services) from a limited resource base while maintaining desired environmental quality levels in the planning region.