EIA: An Efficient Tool?

The history of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) begins from the Notification of 1994. In fact, it was introduced with the sincere intention to protect the environment as intended in the Environment Protection Program 1986. EIA requires companies involved in mining to report possible impact of any such activities that are detrimental to environment. These companies also have to propose activities to minimise the possible impact or damages to the environment.

The Terms of Reference (ToR) are set by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) that sits in Delhi. The standardization of the Terms of Reference is carried out, and based on the ToR supplied, the project proponent engages a consultant expert.

The preparation of the EIA is done on behalf, and for, the company. This is an interesting aspect of EIA where the consultant, sponsored by the project proponent, is expected to do full justice to the study by giving a factual picture of the existing local scenario, which would set the base for deciding the fate of the project. Obviously, the outcome, in the name of EIA is a document that systematically, either conceals or compiles false information/data. Generally, it is a ‘cut-and-paste’ document.

EIA, by no means, helps put a halt to illegal mining. On the contrary, it has been encouraging illegal mining by helping conceal vital facts.

EIA as tool

There are different laws governing mining. Penalties are clearly spelt. Yet, illegal mining activities are rampant, as the demand for ore increases. This does not mean that there should be no more laws. We have to explore possible opportunities at every level, which can help control illegal mining. Hence, we need to look at the process of EIA as a tool to control illegal mining. In fact, there is a High Court order/decision in the matters of Selur Mines  vs Government of Tamil Nadu AIR 2003 Mad 188. The order states ‘....it will be for State Government to first know from all the relevant particulars whether the grant of lease is feasible or not.....’ (MMDR 1957). In reality, no State Government prepares feasibility reports. When ‘Welfare states’ show this attitude, one cannot expect consultants to become the ‘saviour’ of the environment or aim at controlling illegal mining. 

If the project proponent brings any area under any kind of mining practice, which is not covered under EIA, and therefore fails to come within the legitimate premise of envorimental clearance (EC), the EC board should be put on hold to control illegal mining.   EIA by itself can’t become a tool to control illegal mining.

Role of Natives

Literally, natives have no role to play despite their lives being at stake in mining areas. Communities are not informed about the projects that will be undertaken in their locality well ahead. It is only when public hearings are declared that communities realize that a mining project is to come up in their area.

The natives have a say only on the day of a Public Hearing (PH), restricting them to the data provided in the EIA. In my experience, there are few who can understand the whole process of a hearing and the role of the public in a hearing. For the public to understand the EIA and apply their mind in studying it in detail, and then respond in the most genuine manner, is hardly a possibility.

The so-called experts who prepare the EIA could take as much as 90 days. Expecting the public to analyze it in 30 days and face the PH is a mockery of our democratic system.  The whole process expects a common man to be the expert at everything, which is illogical. The end result, therefore, is that native communities are debarred from the entire process, not only the EIA process.

Strengthening EIA

The EIA process needs to undergo drastic changes. EIAs are to be prepared for any three of the seasons other than the monsoon. This should be discarded only in the case of monitoring ambient air quality. However, for the other aspects, it is important to know the extent of the impact on the environment, and especially, water bodies. The final disposal of the mining runoff always affects various ecosystems, including fresh perennial water bodies. This aspect is completely ignored and should find a place in the EIA process.

To strengthen EIAs, the following changes are needed:

a) The 73rd & 74th amendment empowers the local bodies; Gram Sabhas are supposed to  decide  the  fate of villages. The recent SC judgement related to one of the Panchyats in Goa has given a clear judgement that the idea of development was to be decided by local bodies i.e., Panchayats. In this context, EIAs should go through the scrutiny of the Gram Sabhas of the bodies where the project is coming. The consultants should meet the Panchayat bodies when they come down to collect the data of the area.

b) Opinion on feasibility needs to be sought, and it should be the part of EIAs.

c) Details related to the impact on the area/villages should be incorporated in EIAs.
d) It should be made clear whether the transportation of materials from the mining area would be by the public road and whether it is likely to cause public nuisance or not. In Goa, every fortnight, a person gets killed under the wheels of mining trucks.  
    
e) The EIA should meticulously look at the carrying capacity of the area/village.
f) Submission of wrong/false data or concealment should invoke serious action against consultants.
g) The consultants should be compelled to publish notices of their visits to places well in advance like that done on PH.

 

By Ramesh Gauns