Paryavaran Mitra

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The Backdrop:

Gujarat as a state is well-known for being numero uno in Industrialization. Policies, Practices and the undercurrent of entrepreneurship supports the States various mechanisms that are channelized towards Industry. Bearing this in mind, it is our experiences with the implementation of the EIA Notification and the EPH process that shall be highlighted here.

The term Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) refers to the anticipation of various impacts a project will have on the environment and the local community. It is a decision making tool, which guides decision makers in taking appropriate decisions prior to sanctioning clearance. The EIA Notification falls within the umbrella act The Environment Protection Act, 1986

EIA in India:

In 1984 the nation was shocked by the gas leak tragedy in Bhopal, known to be the worst industrial disaster recorded in history. Till 1994, environmental clearance from the Union government was an administrative decision and lacked legislative support. A stunned Indian government then set up the EPA under which a notification was passed in 1994 to make EIA mandatory for certain projects. On 27 January 1994, the MoEF, under the EPA 1986, promulgated the EIA notification making environmental clearance mandatory for expansion or modernization of any activity or for setting up new projects.

Later, in September 2006, a new EIA notification was passed, which decentralized the environmental clearance process (so that some projects now need central clearance from MoEF, and some need clearance at the state level. According to this notification, the environmental clearance process for new and expansion projects will comprise a maximum of four stages, all of which may not be applicable to all projects. These are

  • Screening
  • Scoping
  • Public consultation and
  • Appraisal

The EIA process makes some level of intervention by stakeholders possible where comes in our role. However in the EIA process, the public hearing (or public consultation) stage is the only stage where there is some scope for intervention by local communities. The new notification has excluded NGOs (unless locally situated) from being stakeholders at all Environment Public Hearings. This was a deliberate move by the Government, as it was often seen that NGOs would raise relevant enviro-technical questions and expose the fraudulent data provided in the EIA Reports. While the locally affected people (usually villagers and farmers) are unaware of these complex issues, therefore a language and educational barrier serves the purpose of the project proponent. Nevertheless Public consultation now consists of two steps:

  • The EPH and,
  • Written presentations/comments from all plausible stakeholders other than locally affected people.

Environment Public Hearing:

It is a mandatory step in the process of environmental clearance for Category A and B1 listed projects in the Schedule of the EIA Notification, 2006. This provides a legal space for people of an area to come face-to-face with the project proponent in the presence of regulatory bodies and express their concerns. The process of public hearing is conducted once the Draft EIA report is completed by the project proponent. The Member-Secretary of the concerned Pollution Control Board (PCB) shall finalize the date, time and exact venue of public hearing within 7(seven) days of the date of receipt of the draft environmental impact assessment report. The District Collector is the Chairperson of the EPH committee. The committee hears the objections/suggestions from the public and concerns expressed shall be recorded by the representative of the PCB, the minutes of hearing shall be signed by the district magistrate or his or her representative on the same day and forwarded to the PCB concerned.

Our Objective for taking part in EPHs:

  • To create awareness regarding environmental legislation among people,
  • Networking with organizations working on environmental issues and
  • Strengthening public participation in decision-making process along with the local self-government.

Our participation in Environmental Public Hearings is largely based on following the three conditions:

  • Lack of awareness in the area where the environmental issues have or may have arisen, in the vicinity of the upcoming project or,
  • Absence of NGOs or other groups active in the area, who can raise the issue, protest and pursue the case or,
  • Where the issue is complex and serious and demands planned strategic intervention, despite the presence of active NGOs or other groups.

As part of our work on strengthening the system of EPH, different means are used which is as follows,

  • Sending our comments on the Environment Impact Assessment Reports as plausible stake holders in the State of Gujarat.
  • Collaborate with local organizations - We approach local organizations, groups, individuals, and inform them about the environmental effects of industrial projects in their respective areas and motivate them to participate in the EPH.
  • Conduct meetings with residents of surrounding areas to encourage them to raise their issues effectively and to participate in the hearings.
  • Personal participation in the EPHs of the area of Ahmedabad city, and attendance to those EPHs, despite the restriction to speak orally at all those EPHs where the issue requires constant guidance and follow-up.
  • Post EPH follow up - put forward issues of locally-affected people to concerned authority (Ministry of Environment and Forest/Gujarat Pollution Control Board)

List of Environment Public Hearings in the State of Gujarat for the year 2011 can be viewed at the following link

http://www.gpcb.gov.in/public-hearing-2011.htm

We have also prepared a simplified version of EPH in Gujarati language. Please click here.