Environment Clearance (EC) is a check mechanism for evaluating the potential environmental impacts of a proposed project or activity and determining whether it is environmentally sustainable. The respective regulatory bodies grant the clearance to ensure that the project or activity complies with environmental regulations and standards. Obtaining environmental clearance involves an environmental impact assessment (EIA), an assessment that determines the successful evaluation of the Environment Clearance process. It includes identifying potential environmental impacts, assessing their magnitude and significance, and proposing measures to mitigate any adverse effects. The EIA is conducted by experts and involves public consultation and stakeholder engagement. The clearance is required for various projects, including industrial facilities, mining operations, infrastructure development, and other large-scale activities that may have significant environmental impacts. The objective of the clearance is to ensure that the project is designed and implemented in an environmentally sustainable manner, minimising any negative impacts on the environment and local communities.
Process of Environment Clearance in India
The process of obtaining environmental clearance involves the following steps:
- Site Selection: The project proponent selects a site for the proposed project, considering environmental considerations and regulatory requirements.
- Environmental Impact Assessment: The project proponent conducts an EIA study to assess the potential environmental impacts of the proposed project. The EIA study includes data collection, impact assessment, and the identification of mitigation measures.
- Applying for No Objection Certificate (NOC): The project proponent applies for a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB). The NOC certifies that the project complies with environmental standards and regulations.
- Arranging Public Meetings: The SPCB arranges a public meeting to allow stakeholders, including local communities and other interested parties, to express their views and concerns regarding the project.
- Submission Clearance Application: The project proponent applies for environmental clearance to the regulatory authority, along with the EIA report, Pollution NOC from the SPCB, and other required documents.
- Review and Appraisal: The regulatory authority then reviews the application, EIA report, and other documents to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of the proposed project and the adequacy of the proposed mitigation measures.
- Grant or Deny Clearance: If the regulatory authority is satisfied that the proposed project is environmentally sustainable and adequately mitigates potential adverse impacts, it grants the project clearance.
Process of Evaluation of Environment Clearance in India
The process of Evaluation of Environment Clearance is as follows:
- Screening: The regulatory authority first reviews the project proposal and determines whether it requires environmental clearance. Projects likely to have significant environmental impacts are required to obtain clearance. Screening is required for Category B type projects, and the project category is identified by a state-level expert appraisal committee.
- Scoping: Once the project has been identified for environmental clearance, the regulatory authority determines the scope of the Environmental Impact Assessment study that needs to be conducted. The scope of the EIA study is required for category A and B1 projects. The central Expert Appraisal Committee for A category and State Level Expert Appraisal Committee (SEIAA) for B1 would identify terms of reference for preparing the EIA Report.
- Data Collection: The project proponent collects data on the potential environmental impacts of the proposed project, such as air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, biodiversity, and socio-economic impacts. The data collection is done through field surveys, laboratory analysis, and stakeholder consultations.
- Impact Assessment: The project proponent assesses the potential environmental impacts of the proposed project based on the data collected as a part of the Evaluation of Environment Clearance from the authority’s end. The impact assessment includes an analysis of the potential impacts on air quality, water quality, biodiversity, and socio-economic factors, among others.
- Mitigation Measures: Based on the impact assessment, the project proponent identifies and proposes mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate the potential environmental impacts of the proposed project. The proposed mitigation measures are evaluated for their effectiveness in mitigating the potential environmental impacts.
- Public Hearing: The regulatory authority arranges a public hearing to allow stakeholders, including local communities and other interested parties, to express their views and concerns regarding the project. The public hearing is for category A and B1 type projects organised with District Collector as a chairperson, officials of SPCB and representatives of Gram Sabha to address the objection or suggestions of the public before the draft of the EIA report.
- Expert Appraisal: The regulatory authority reviews the EIA report, the proposed mitigation measures, and the public consultation inputs to evaluate the proposed project’s potential environmental impacts and the adequacy of the proposed mitigation measures.
- Grant or Denial of Clearance: Based on the expert appraisal, the regulatory authority may grant environmental clearance if it is satisfied that the proposed project is environmentally sustainable and adequately mitigates any potential adverse impacts.
- Monitoring and Compliance: After the project is granted environmental clearance, the regulatory authority monitors the implementation of the mitigation measures and compliance with environmental standards and regulations.
Note: Projects in any of the following listed below would require environmental clearance irrespective of the Project Type.
- Biosphere reserves
- National parks and sanctuaries
- National lakes and swamps
- Seismic zones
- Tribal settlements
- Areas of scientific and geological interest
- Religious and historical places
- Archaeological monuments
- Scenic areas
- Hill resorts
- Beach resorts
- Gulf areas
- Border areas (international)
- Defence installations, especially those of security importance and sensitive to pollution
- Coastal areas are rich in mangroves, corals, and breeding grounds of specific species.
Laws Regulating the Evaluation of Environment Clearance in India
The regulations governing the evaluation of Environment Clearance in India are as follows:
- The Environment Protection Act, 1986: This is the primary legislation governing environmental clearance, which establishes the legal framework for environmental protection and provides for the prevention, control, and reduction of environmental pollution.
- The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006: The notification outlines the scope of the EIA study, the documentation required, and the timeline for review and decision-making.
- The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 regulates the diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes, such as infrastructure development and industrial projects.
- The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011: This notification regulates development activities in the coastal zone, including the construction of ports, harbours, and other infrastructure and requires the approval of the coastal zone management authority before any such activities can be undertaken.
- The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 regulates the discharge of pollutants into water bodies and establishes the legal framework for preventing and controlling water pollution. It requires industries and other entities to obtain consent from the state pollution control board before discharging any pollutants.
Factors Influencing Evaluation of Environment Clearance
The factors influencing the Evaluation of Environment Clearance are as follows:
- Project Size and Scope: The proposed project’s size and scope significantly impact the environmental clearance process. For example – Large-scale projects with significant environmental impacts will likely face greater scrutiny and may require additional mitigation measures.
- Location: The location of the proposed project also has a significant effect on the clearance process, projects located in ecologically sensitive areas, such as forests, wetlands, or coastal zones, will require additional assessments and mitigation measures.
- Public Opinion: Public opinion plays a significant role in the EIA and during the evaluation of Environment Clearance process. Projects that local communities or environmental groups oppose may face greater scrutiny and require additional mitigation measures.
- Regulatory Requirements: Depending upon the project type, the regulatory requirement varies as per the sector, size, and project location.
The Environmental Clearance is a basic regulatory requirement in India that aims to ensure that development projects are implemented sustainably and environmentally responsibly. The process involves a comprehensive Evaluation of Environment Clearance process and considers potential environmental impacts of a proposed project and the adequacy of the proposed mitigation measures. The evaluation process is guided by a set of laws and regulations that provide a framework for assessing environmental impacts, stakeholder consultation, and identifying mitigation measures. The process is designed to be transparent, participatory, and scientifically rigorous to ensure that projects are approved only if they meet environmental standards and regulations. It is recommended that a person seeking Environment Clearance for his/her project proponent to proceed with expert consultation to comply with the procedure that requires extensive compliance with the regulatory requirements.