Environment Impact Assessment (EIA)

Environment Impact Assessment (EIA)


Environment Impact Assessment (EIA)


  1. The International Association for Impact Assessment defines EIA as “the process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made.”
  2. Environment Impact Assessment or EIA can be defined as the study to predict the effect of a proposed activity/project on the environment. A decision making tool, EIA compares various alternatives for a project and seeks to identify the one which represents the best combination of economic and environmental costs and benefits.

Origin of EIA

  1. EIA as a mandatory regulatory procedure originated in the early 1970s, with the implementation of the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) 1969 in the US.
  2. The 1992 Rio Declaration, which emphasized the need for direct public participation in the decision-making process pertaining to environmental issues, can be credited as the source of the entire EIA procedure that followed today.
  3. The widely acknowledged and well-established "Precautionary Principle" of environmental law in India and around the world is where EIA got its start. It is always preferable to minimize environmental damage rather than address it because most of it cannot be undone.
  4. All laws based on the environment try to strike a balance between sustainable development and protecting the environment, and they acknowledge the significance of such large-scale projects.


Applicability of EIA in India

  1. The Indian experience with Environmental Impact Assessment began over 20 years back. It started in 1976-77 when the Planning Commission asked the Department of Science and Technology to examine the river-valley projects from an environmental angle. Later, its scope was expanded to include a variety of other development processes. EIA is currently obligatory for north of 30 classes of activities.
  2. Till 1994, environmental clearance from the Central Government was an administrative decision and lacked legislative support.
  3. On 27 January 1994, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF), Government of India, under the Environmental (Protection) Act 1986, promulgated an EIA notification making Environmental Clearance (EC) mandatory for expansion or modernisation of any activity or for setting up new projects listed in Schedule 1 of the notification. Since then there have been 12 amendments made in the EIA notification of 1994.
  4. The Environmental Protection Rules, 1986 warrant for the burden of specific limitations on the development/extension/modernization of explicit ventures without earlier endorsement from the Central, State, or Union Territory level Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (EIAA) comprised under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

Projects classification

  1. The rules divide the projects into two groups, Group A and Group B, based on how big they are and how they affect natural and artificial resources.
  2. On the recommendation of an Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) established by the Central Government specifically for this purpose, the projects in Category A require approval from the Ministry of Environment and Forests on behalf of the Central Government; eg. Primary metallurgical industries (iron, steel, copper, etc.), individual projects, and related nuclear power projects are all examples of construction or expansion.
  3. Based on the recommendations of a State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC), which were established in accordance with the aforementioned notification, projects and activities that fall under Category B require approval from a State EIAA.

The Process of EIA

The eight steps of the EIA process are presented in brief below:



  1. Screening: First stage of EIA, which determines whether the proposed project, requires an EIA and if it does, then the level of assessment required.
  2. Scoping: This stage identifies the key issues and impacts that should be further investigated. This stage also defines the boundary and time limit of the study.
  3. Impact analysis: This stage of EIA identifies and predicts the likely environmental and social impact of the proposed project and evaluates the significance.
  4. Mitigation: This step in EIA recommends the actions to reduce and avoid the potential adverse environmental consequences of development activities.
  5. Reporting: This stage presents the result of EIA in a form of a report to the decision-making body and other interested parties.
  6. Review of EIA: It examines the adequacy and effectiveness of the EIA report and provides the information necessary for decision-making.
  7. Decision-making: It decides whether the project is rejected, approved or needs further change.
  8. Post monitoring: This stage comes into play once the project is commissioned. It checks to ensure that the impacts of the project do not exceed the legal standards and implementation of the mitigation measures are in the manner as described in the EIA report.

A new type of EIA: Strategic Environment Assessment

  1. Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) refers to systematic analysis of the environmental effects of development policies, plans, programmes and other proposed strategic actions.
  2. This process extends the aims and principles of EIA upstream in the decision-making process, beyond the project level and when major alternatives are still open. SEA represents a proactive approach to integrating environmental considerations into the higher levels of decision-making.



Some Limitations of EIA

  1. Inadequate public participation: Although public participation is an essential part of the EIA process, it is often not conducted properly in India. Many times, the public is not given enough time to review and comment on the EIA report. Also, the public's feedback is not adequately considered in the final decision-making process.
  2. Limited scope of the assessment: The scope of the EIA process is often limited to the project site and its immediate surroundings. This approach ignores the potential impacts on the broader ecosystem and the people living in the surrounding areas.
  3. Reports lack vernacularity: Most reports are in English and not in the local languages making is difficult for local residents to understand the outcome of the EIA. In some cases, executive summary is translated into local language.
  4. Inadequate assessment of cumulative impacts: The EIA process in India does not adequately assess the cumulative impacts of multiple development projects in a region. This approach ignores the potential cumulative impacts of multiple projects on the environment and the people living in the region.
  5. Limited expertise: The EIA process requires expertise in several disciplines, including environmental science, social science, and engineering. However, the availability of experts in India is limited. As a result, the quality of the EIA reports may suffer, leading to incomplete or inaccurate assessments.
  6. Limited enforcement: Even if an EIA report identifies potential environmental impacts, there is no guarantee that the project proponent will take appropriate measures to mitigate those impacts. This lack of enforcement undermines the effectiveness of the EIA process in India.
  7. EIA review is not up to the marks: The review agency called Impact Assessment Agency (IAA) lacks inter-disciplinary capacity. No representation of NGO in IAA, which is a violation of the EIA notification.

Draft EIA notification, 2020

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Amendment, 2020 is a set of changes made to the EIA notification of 2006, which is the primary legal framework for conducting EIA in India. The amendment was introduced in March 2020 and was notified by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in September 2020.

The key changes introduced by the EIA Amendment, 2020 are:

  1. Post facto clearance: The amendment allows projects to be granted environmental clearance (EC) even if they have started construction or operations without obtaining prior EC. This has been widely criticized as it could encourage companies to ignore environmental regulations.
  2. Reduced public participation: The amendment reduced the time period for public consultation from 30 days to 20 days for projects in non-urban areas and from 30 days to 40 days for projects in urban areas. This could limit the ability of the public to provide feedback on proposed projects.
  3. Exemptions for certain projects: The amendment exempts several categories of projects from the requirement of obtaining prior EC. These include projects related to national defense and security, rural infrastructure, and certain expansions of existing projects.
  4. Expanded list of projects requiring EIA: The amendment added a few new projects to the list of projects that require EIA clearance. These include inland waterways, expansion or modernization of existing airports, and construction of highways in mountainous regions.
  5. Increased validity period of EC: The amendment increased the validity period of ECs for mining projects from 5 years to 50 years. This has been criticized for potentially allowing companies to continue mining without proper monitoring and assessment of environmental impacts.

How to improve EIA process: Way forward

  1. An independent authority: for the Environmental Impact Assessment has been suggested by civil society organizations, with representatives from communities, people's groups, scientists, sociologists, and environmentalists at its helm. Such a body would be free of the service of climate and woodlands. The MOEF would be bound by this authority's decision.
  2. Strategic impact assessments are required: Policy-level and sector-wide EIAs in the form of strategic impact assessments are required (for mining, power, and other industries). To evaluate the effects of development, macroeconomic, and other policies, plans, and programs, this is essential.
  3. Wider consultation should take place: Experts from a variety of stakeholder groups with a reputation in environmental and other relevant fields should take the place of the current executive committees. The public should be able to view the committees' decisions and advice, as well as the minutes of their meetings and the process by which they were chosen.
  4. Automatic withdrawal of clearance: If the conditions of the clearance are being broken, the EIA notification needs to include an automatic withdrawal of clearance and more stringent penalties for noncompliance.


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