Saturday, February 13, 2010

Environmental Impact Assessments In India Are Becoming A Joke

...time for another rant on the Environmental Impact Assessment ( EIA) process (which is required for clearing large developmental projects) in India.

What do you do to get a green signal for a development project in a bio-diverse wetland frequented by migratory birds?

Answer: Do the EIA in the summer months..when the wetlands are naturally drier and there are no winter migratory birds! Then file a report saying that there is no ecological value to this area...go ahead and build your project!

According to Dr Asad R. Rahmani of Bombay Natural History Society and Prof Asha Rajvanshi of the Wildlife Institute of India, that is what is happening in the case of the Naupada swamps in coastal Andhra Pradesh where an EIA report filed neglected to do a multi-year survey and instead considered only the period of 3 months from March to May.

How absurd can the process get?!!

The problem begins with how the state classifies the land. This piece of wetland is considered a "wasteland" by the district authorities. The hired consultants use that as a baseline and make no attempt to seriously evaluate the ecosystem.

That's how increasingly the EIA system seems to work...terms of reference and baselines are purposely kept narrow, limited and ill-considered and consultants with a past history of saying what the government wants to hear are favored. By relegating the EIA to a side-show with no real powers to halt a project or make its design conditional to the EIA finding,  a culture of shoddy science, incompetence and sheer dishonesty is being encouraged.

Beyond popular articles in mainstream media the EIA is coming under some more serious scrutiny in science publications as well. In the January 25 2010 issue of Current Science Devendra Kumar Agrawal, Mahendra S. Lodhi and Shradha Panwar do a case study of the potential impact of planned hydroelectric projects in the Alaknanda catchment in Uttarakhand and conclude that the EIA process is inadequately equipped to evaluate the region wide ecological impact of these projects. The EIA considers each project as separate and its larger impact on adjoining areas is not included in the scope of the EIA study. This piecemeal approach does not consider cascading and other non-tangible effects of these projects.

The Ministry of Environment and Forest which has the final say on these reports and projects is applying different clearance standards for different issues.

Here is what the Minister of Environment and Forest Mr. Jairam Ramesh said recently about the decision to withhold introduction of Bt Bringal (Times of India February 10 2010):

"It is my duty to adopt a cautious, precautionary principle based approach till such time independent scientific studies establish to the satisfaction of both the public and the professional the safety of the product".

Fine words..Mr Minister..but how about extending the same principles ...caution, precautionary principle based approach...independent science...satisfaction of both the public and the the EIA process?

Why has the EIA process been rendered so toothless that a project can begin even before the relevant EIA is completed..?

You Mr. Minister are overlooking and presiding over a grotesque perversion of science and the consequent loss of valuable biodiversity, ecological services and the livelihoods of people who depend on them.

India is a signatory to the Ramsar Agreement... a commitment to protect valuable wetlands.

Don't be a mute spectator.


  1. This is absurd. And ludicrous. And most likely corrupt in several senses of the word. Perhaps it was not so much the principle or the science but the thousands of people across the country organizing against Bt Brinjal that prompted Mr. Ramesh to take a "cautious" approach re: GM food... hope that doesn't sound too cynical!

  2. As usual you have hit the right spot.Is the Government really for the people???

  3. I haven't followed the GM bringal science issues too closely...but for the EIA you have to be cynical when confronted with such deliberate sabotage.