Environmental Clearance process involves a comprehensive evaluation of the potential environmental impacts of a proposed project and the adequacy of the proposed mitigation measures. In this way, it ensures that the project is not a potential threat to the environment. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) and the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) grant environmental clearances for projects at the central and state levels, respectively, under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006. The importance of Environmental Clearance can be understood from the fact that today environmental clearance process is necessary for 39 categories of projects that can include the preparation of an Environment Impact assessment report, including conducting screening, scoping, and public hearing and evaluation.
The EIA Notification, 2006 categorises the projects into two categories, Category A and Category B (which is further subdivided into B1 and B2). The MoEF&CC approves Category A projects, while the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority approves Category B projects. Except for B2 category projects, all other projects will need EIA.
History of Environment Clearance in India
The history of Environmental Clearance roots back to the early 1970 in India when the country witnessed a series of man-made environmental disasters, one of which was the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in 1984. These events highlighted the need for a regulatory framework to mitigate the adverse environmental impacts of development projects.
- Environment Protection Act, 1986 – The first regulatory framework for environmental clearance in India was established in 1986 with the enactment of the Environmental Protection Act (EPA). The EPA provided the legal framework for assessing and managing environmental impacts and confirmed the need for environmental clearances for certain projects.
- Environmental Impact Assessment Guidelines – In 1994, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) issued guidelines for conducting environmental impact assessment (EIA) for various projects, including mining, thermal power plants, and industrial estates. The procedures established the need for public consultations and required project proponents to submit detailed EIA reports.
- Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 1994 – the MoEF had realised the Importance of Environmental Clearance by that time and therefore introduced the first EIA notification in 1994, which established a comprehensive framework for evaluating the environmental impacts of development projects.
- Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 – In 2006, the 1994 Notification was updated and replaced by the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006. The updated notification expanded the scope of projects that required environmental clearance, established more stringent criteria for project approval, and strengthened the public consultation process. As per this notification, approval for environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) is required for the following-
- Projects listed under Schedule 1
- Developmental projects in the ecologically fragile areas
- Industrial projects have an investment of more than Rs. 500 million. [Such projects must obtain a letter of intent from the Ministry of Industry and NOCs from the State Pollution Control Board and the State Forest Department if the project is in forestland].
- Site clearance and environmental clearance for establishing and operating any new power plant.
- The industries are categorised into categories A and B depending on their size and capacity. MoEF gives clearance to category A projects, and Category B is given clearance by the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA).
Importance of Environmental Clearance
The importance of the Environmental Clearance mechanism is as follows:
- Protection of The Environment: Environmental clearance helps protect the environment from the potential adverse impacts of development projects. The clearance process evaluates the potential environmental impacts of a proposed project and identifies measures to mitigate those impacts, ensuring that the project is implemented in an environmentally sustainable manner.
- Sustainable Development: Environmental clearance promotes sustainable development by ensuring that development projects are implemented to balance economic, social, and environmental considerations. The clearance process encourages adopting environmentally friendly practices and technologies, leading to more sustainable development outcomes.
- Compliance with Environmental Laws and Regulations: Environmental clearance ensures that development projects comply with environmental laws and regulations. This helps prevent environmental violations and minimises the risk of legal disputes related to environmental issues.
- Public Participation: The importance of Environmental Clearance in the eyes of the public is strengthened when their concerns are addressed in the form of active public participation. The public hearing stage involves consultation, allowing local communities and other stakeholders to express their views and concerns regarding the proposed project. This promotes transparency and accountability in decision-making and ensures that the concerns of affected communities are considered.
- Economic Benefits: Environmental clearance provides economic benefits by promoting sustainable development and ensuring that development projects are economically viable in the long run.
Stages of Environmental Clearance in India
The stages of Environmental Clearance in India are as follows:
Step 1: Submit the application form to the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) or SEIAA according to category A or B.
Step 2: Expert Appraisal committee will then use the application form to decide the invention required for the project, known as Terms of Reference (ToR).
Step 3: This step involves the preparation of an Environmental Impact Assessment Report according to TOR by NABET-accredited EIA Consultants.
Step 4: In this step, the draft EIA is submitted to the MoEF or SEIAA.
Step 5: The SPCB then conducts a public hearing. The committee hears the objections from the public, and the concerns are recorded and submitted to the MoEF.
Step 6: A final EIA is submitted to the MoEF along with all the public hearing minutes for final appraisal and issuance of the certificate. MoEF has the authority to check the final EIA to TOR and refers the adherence to the expert appraisal committee.
Step 7: The appraisal committee then recommends either for clearance or rejection to the MoEF, and the MoEF gives the clearance or rejection letter to the project proponent.
Note – Getting an Environmental Clearance Certificate can vary between 6 to 12 months.
Environmental clearance ensures the sustainable and environmentally responsible implementation of development projects. MoEF&CC grants environmental clearances for projects under its purview, as per the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006. The EIA process is guided by a set of laws and regulations that provide a framework for assessing environmental impacts, stakeholder consultation, identifying mitigation measures, and establishing the importance of Environmental Clearance. Environmental clearance is crucial to mitigating the adverse environmental impacts of development projects in India, promoting sustainable development, and protecting the environment for future generations. While the clearance process has undergone significant improvements over the years, there is still room for improvement in transparency, stakeholder consultation, and the inclusion of indigenous and local communities in the decision-making process.