Ranking State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities (SEIAAs)

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    • The environment ministry issued an office memorandum to all State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities (SEIAAs), announcing a star-rating system that would rank SEIAAs based on how long they took to grant environmental clearance (EC) for projects.

    About

    • Approval by SEIAA: All proposed infrastructure projects above a certain size with a potential to significantly alter the natural environment must be first approved by an SEIAA, which consists of State officers and independent experts.
    • Category A: Projects that are even bigger or involve forest land – called category A – must be cleared by a committee of experts constituted by the Centre.
    • Category B: SEIAA projects are category B and relatively smaller though they make up the bulk of projects that are presented for approval.
      • ‘B’ category projects include the bulk of building and construction, small mining, small industry projects and are considered to be ‘less polluting.’
    • The SEIAAs are responsible for providing permissions and environmental clearance for more than 90 per cent: infrastructure, developmental and industrial projects in the country, once they assess that these projects have little environmental impact.
    • Parivesh portal: The project appraisal process is an online process where aspirant companies must upload documents on a portal called Parivesh.

    Ranking system

    • The ranking system is based on the provisions of EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) Notification 2006.
      • The law that governs environmental clearance norms and that there is no negative marking proposed for not meeting the criteria for ranking.
    • Speed of clearance: It aims to rank State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities (SEIAAs) based on the speed at which they clear proposals and provide environmental clearance for projects.
      • It will encourage the efficiency, transparency and accountability in the functioning of SEIAAs.
    • No punishment: It also said no SEIAA will be penalized for taking more time in granting permission.
    • Criteria: It will rate the SEIAA on seven different criteria, which would exhibit their efficiency.
      • These include the average number of days for granting EC, the number of times additional details regarding the project were sought, and the number of complaints addressed by the SEIAA.
      • States scoring the highest marks would be awarded the most stars.
    • In case of deficiency in proposals: the SEIAA may raise Essential Details Sought (EDS) and the period for which the reply is pending “shall not be counted for calculating the number of days taken by the SEIAA.
      • Therefore, the SEIAA has complete freedom to do all necessary due diligence before taking decisions on projects without worrying about the time-line.
      • There is no question of the EIA report quality being compromised due to the ranking system.
    • Marking system: According to the rating system, if an SEIAA’s average number of days for granting environment clearance is less than 80 days, it will get two marks, for over 105 days it will get one mark. If it is between 105 and 120 days, the state authority will get 0.5 marks and if it takes more than 120 days, it will get no mark.
    • Terms of Reference: The system also gives states that dispose of a higher proportion of Terms of Reference (ToR) proposals and new EC proposals more marks.
      • This is to “reduce undue delay in taking a decision on a ToR proposal”.
      • The ToR is a document issued by the SEIAA that outlines elements required for a fair environmental impact assessment.

    Issues

    • Hasty clearances: The move was met with much criticism from environmentalists and researchers, who said it could lead to hasty clearances without adequate oversight from SEIAAs.
    • Proponents to provide additional details multiple times: This criterion was criticized by environmentalists because requests for more information, called Essential Details Sought or Additional Details Sought, can help the SEIAA gather enough data to make an informed decision.
    • Rating method for SEIAAs conducting site visits: According to the system, state authorities conducting fewer than 10 percent of site visits were given the most marks, while those that carried out site visits in 20 per cent or more cases were given no points.
    • Violative proposal: A perusal of the criteria reveals that greater weightage is given for projects where due diligence is less so SEIAA members should sit in the confines of conference rooms and take decisions and earn high marks.
      • The task of the SEIAA is undertaking a ‘detailed scrutiny’ whereas this notification makes them rubber stamp authorities.
    • Lack of scientific decision making: The rating system limited SEIAA members from exercising their scientific, legal and administrative knowledge.
      • By stressing “quick and efficient clearance” the process undermined scientific rigour in the decision making process.

    Government’s point of view/ Way forward

    • Environmental clearance is granted based on the “detailed scrutiny” of the application, documents, and public consultation wherever applicable, site visits criterion has been added to discourage unnecessary site visits.
    • Not intended to accelerate the speed: Ministry said that the ranking criteria was not intended to accelerate the speed with which clearances were accorded but to encourage the SEIAA to take quicker decisions on approving or rejecting a project, and adhere to timelines already specified by the provisions of the Act.
      • If a SEIAA demands clarification, the time taken to respond won’t be deducted.
    • No Negative marking: SEIAA has complete freedom to complete all the necessary due diligence without worrying about the timeline and that States would not be negatively marked for not meeting ranking criteria.

    Source: IE