Gujarat RIL case study shows weaknesses of environmental impact assessment in India

Focus on economic growth has diluted the EIA in India

By Indira Hirway
Published: Monday 18 April 2022
Gujarat RIL case study shows weakness of environmental impact assessment in India Photo: iStock

In his doctoral thesis on Legal Aspects of Environmental Impact Assessment: A Comparative Study of India and European Union, Ashok Hirway examined the legal framework and implementation of environment impact assessment (EIA) in the European Union and India. After examining the legal processes in EU and India, the author has examined the case studies in India and in Germany.  

The Indian case study refers to the environmental clearance of the ‘Modification of Reliance Refinery Complex’ at Moti Khavdi village on the Gujarat Coast, Jamnagar district. 

Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) operated an integrated petroleum refinery in its petrochemical complex in coastal Jamnagar, Gujarat. It also had an integrated co-generation captive power plant at Moti Khavdi village in Jamnagar district. 

One of the world’s leading engineering procurement and commissioning companies had designed the refinery complex according to the project specifications to achieve the commission standards of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB). 

The plant was being expanded to increase the production capacity of RIL. This was to be achieved by capacity maximisation of the existing process units and by augmenting with the new primary, secondary and balancing processing units. 

The proposed expansion of the refinery was to meet 90 per cent of fuel and energy requirements of the company. The technology for the expansion was provided by some of the global leaders in the technology — from the United States of America, Germany, the United Kingdom and Israel. 

The EIA report of the modification was prepared by NEERI, the GPCB granted the ‘no objection’ certificate to it and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest, New Delhi, accorded environmental clearance to the project.

NEERI’s EIA report

NEERI’s report was comprehensive, as it included all the required areas. This covered the impact of the proposed project on air quality, monitoring of air quality and air quality management; impact on noise environment, water environment, water requirement; and management; on marine outfall system, on land and land management, and soil quality management. 

The EIA also covered waste and waste disposal, disposal of non-hazardous waste and hazardous waste, landfill, as well as the impact of the project on flora and fauna. 

It ensured upgrading of local infrastructure, providing medical services to local people, managing air pollution and noise pollution; and impact on health and compensation, and occupational health related issues. 

In short, the EIA addressed all negative impacts in the region. A perfect report indeed! 

After all this, however, the EIA has two sets of problems: The document had several weaknesses, and there were serious concerns about its implementation.

First, there was no provision for data collection or regular production of certificates (for example, from GPCB) about the compliance of the rules of the past project of RIL.

Also, monthly compliance reports were not produced under the company’s earlier project. That is, the new EIA report did not attach any compliance reports of the earlier EIA or any other relevant certificates that showed that RIL had enforced the earlier EIA well in the past. 

Second, there is no evidence to show that the new EIA team had the needed expertise. No data was given on the experts of the EIA report, although it is mandatory. 

Third, the EIA document has left many responsibilities of implementation to contractors. It has left, for instance, the responsibility of occupational safety of workers, waste disposal and water management to contractors. Watering roads to reduce dust content of air, and implementation of pollution-related rules was also left to contractors. 

Though the past experience showed that the focus of contractors was on reducing costs and maximising profits at the cost of workers, RIL put a lot of responsibilities on contractors.  

Fourth, though the EIA mentioned employment generation as the major benefit for the local population, the new EIA gave no data or details on this. Past experience with the company showed that employment for the local population, if at all, was of poor quality. No compliance reports were produced on this.  

The new EIA suggested no adequate institutional mechanism to ensure healthy management of the environment in the region. There was no provision for registering complaints or for grievance redressing. 

Our investigations revealed that local people and local environmental organisations made the following demands: 

Strict implementation of the water use policy by RIL and supply of potable water for local people

Regular monitoring of the implementation of the EIA by the government, including production of 6-monthly compliance reports.  

The company, however, did not produce regular compliance reports in the past and there was no assurance that they would produce such reports now – in the case of a new EIA. Also, these reports were not accessible to people.  

The author makes some important observations while comparing the EIA processes in India and Germany in the last chapter of the PhD thesis.

To start with, Germany has sound legal processes that include implementation and monitoring processes comprehensively. India does not have these provisions.  

Second, the laws in Germany involve people right from the beginning. In India, public participation is not from the beginning, with the result that people are neither aware nor effective in decision-making regarding the projects.

The well-known environmental organisations in Gujarat, such as the Paryavaran Mitra and Paryavan Suraksha Smaiti, had many questions about the EIA. But they could not ask any questions in the public hearing about the promises made by RIL in the EIA. There was no mechanism to ensure this. 

RIL gave no satisfactory answers to the questions in these areas in the public hearing. In short, the EIA exercise is not satisfactory. Its implementation cannot be known or monitored. 

Third, environmental impact on natural resources and health of people are major concerns in Germany but India does not bother much about it. In fact, these two concerns take a back seat in India. 

Fourth, while in Germany alternatives to address people’s concern are important in EIA, India focuses, if at all, on mitigation of the impact. Alternative approaches such as alternative locations or technologies are not considered.

Finally, the focus on economic growth overtakes environmental concerns in India, while in Germany the focus is on environment quality and public well-being.

The focus on economic growth has diluted the EIA in India. The industrial lobby further dilutes the implementation. 

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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