Draft EIA notification institutionalises 1 season data for baseline

Such data is needed for assessing impact of a project on the environment; experts fear;Environment Impact Assessment studies will become misleading
Draft EIA notification institutionalises 1 season data for baseline

Data from only one season can be used to create a baseline for projects under the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020 unveiled by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) March 12.

Baseline data is needed in EIA reports that predict the impact a project will have on the environment of an area. Experts pointed out that the data for all seasons, thus, will not be taken into account for creating a baseline.

Section 13(2) of the notification says:

Baseline data shall be collected for one season other than monsoon for EIA report with respect to all projects, other than River Valley projects.

This will lead to less reliable data and projections for pollutants affecting air and water, according to several experts.

The latest draft EIA notification does away with the need to carry out studies covering all seasons in a year, said EAS Sarma, a social activist and former secretary in the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.

“This is clearly an ill-advised amendment that will render EIA studies incomplete and misleading,” he said.

The end result of the EIA will mask the full environmental impact of a project.

Data for air pollutants will be different depending on the season, said RK Singh, an environmentalist and science head at the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, a Delhi-based legal firm working on environmental issues.

“In summer, pollutants will be low because of low atmospheric pressure and vice-versa,” he said. “For water too, pollutants will be less in central Indian rivers post monsoon. In Himalayan rivers, as the flow is higher during summer, there will be fewer pollutants,” he added.

Due to this, the baselines for projects — except sand mining, stone crushers and building construction — that remain functional throughout the year will not be accurate.

Sarma, giving the example of coal-based power projects in wetland sites in Andhra Pradesh’s Srikakulam district, explained why data for all seasons was important.

Water inflows and outflows along with biodiversity patterns change from season to season in a wetland, according to Sarma. It was important the EIA studies for projects located in wetlands should cover all the seasons, Sarma said.

“In particular, the Bhavanapadu site was adjacent to the well-known Thelineelapuram bird sanctuary. The sanctuary provides a seasonal habitat for unique migratory bird species,” he said.

Confining the EIA study to one particular season in that case would fail to capture the impact of the project on the sanctuary in the other seasons, Sarma added.

The provision for collecting only one season’s data was first mentioned in the Technical EIA Guidance Manual prepared for the MoEF&CC, according to Singh.

The manual was prepared by Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS) and Administrative Staff College, Hyderabad in 2009.

Earlier EIA notifications from 1994 and 2006 were both are silent on how baseline data was to be collected. “Before the 2009 manual came into the picture, it was the prerogative of the Environment Appraisal Committee to demand one season or three season data,” said Singh.

“But with the coming of this clause in the EIA notification, collection of one season data will become the law,” Singh added.

“While the environment ministry may be anxious to simplify environment clearance procedures, it will be highly imprudent to institute procedures not scientifically justified. I hope the Ministry will appreciate this and withdraw such proposals,” Sarma said.

The MoEF&CC has extended the deadline for comments on the draft EIA notification till August 11 after a June 30 order by the Delhi High Court.

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