What's the article about?
- It talks about the need of a more Comprehensive EIA Process in the Indian Himalayan Region.
- GS1: Important Geophysical Phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc., geographical features and their location-changes in critical geographical features (including water-bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.
- GS3: Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment
- The recent Teesta dam breach in Sikkim and floods and landslides in Himachal Pradesh highlight the negative impact of development on the environment and ecology, especially in the mountains.
- The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) process is a tool defined by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to identify the environmental, social, and economic impacts of a project before it is implemented.
- This article discusses the importance of a comprehensive EIA process in the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) and the need for a differentiated risk management approach.
- The precursor to the EIA began in 1976-77 when the Planning Commission directed the Department of Science and Technology to assess river valley projects from an environmental point of view.
- On January 27, 1994, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 (EPA) promulgated the first EIA notification making Environmental Clearance (EC) mandatory for setting up some specified new projects and also for expansion or modernisation of some specific activities.
- The EIA 2006 notification replaced the 1994 notification and laid down the procedure as well as institutional set-up to give environmental clearance for the projects that need such clearance as per this notification.
- Graded Approach and Flaws:
- The Indian regulatory system uses a graded approach, a differentiated risk management approach depending on whether a project is coming up within a protected forest, a reserved forest, a national park, or a critical tiger habitat.
- However, the IHR is treated like any other part of the country despite its special needs and as an area of immense ecological importance to the entire country.
- The Himalayas are inherently vulnerable to extreme weather conditions such as heavy rains, flash floods, and landslides and are seismically active.
- Climate change has added another layer of vulnerability to this ecosystem. Despite this understanding of the fragility and vulnerability of the Himalayas, there is no mention of a different set of environmental standards needed if the project is located in the IHR.
- Need for a More Comprehensive EIA Process:
- The EIA process now reacts to development proposals rather than anticipate them.
- Due to the fact that they are financed by the project proponent, there is a veering in favour of the project.
- The process now does not adequately consider cumulative impacts as far as impacts caused by several projects in the area are concerned but does to some extent cover the project’s subcomponents or ancillary developments.
- In many cases, the EIA is done in a ‘box ticking approach’ manner, as a mere formality that needs to be done for EC before a project can be started.
- The consequences of all these limitations are amplified in the IHR as on top of the inherent limitations of the process, the EIA process is not at all cognisant of the special needs of the IHR.
- The EIA process needs to be more comprehensive and cognisant of the special needs of the IHR. Policymakers should explore other tools such as the strategic environmental assessment which takes into account the cumulative impact of development in an area to address the needs of the IHR as a fundamental policy. The EIA process should anticipate development proposals, consider cumulative impacts, and be more than a mere formality.
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