Brief note on workshop on Cumulative Impact Assessment: Need for better assessment tool: Time to deliberate

A two days workshop on “Cumulative Impact Assessment- Need for better assessment tool: Time to deliberate” was organized by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on 29th and 30th June 2016 at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. The workshop organized in collaboration with IIM Kashipur and World Bank Group was intended to deliberate on ineffectiveness of existing environment clearance and impact assessment framework and need of improvement in it. Following key pints were discussed in the workshop:

  • Existing environmental clearance and environment impact assessment system and its shortcomings

  • Experience of environmental clearance and assessment process for giant and mega projects 

  • Alternative impact assessment tools attempted in India

  • Experience of various cumulative impact assessment (CIA) studies attempted in India

  • Opportunities to adopt CIA/ regional/strategic impact assessment framework and strategy for that

The workshop involved experienced participants across various domain- researchers, industry professionals, academia, consultants and regulators etc.  The participants were invited to share their experience, present their research/work and brainstorm in the discussion. List of the participants is attached at the end as annexure.

Summary of the deliberation
CSE set the stage for discussion by sharing the objective of the workshop followed by its experience existing framework of environmental clearance and impact assessment. CSE pointed out that there are inherent limitations in the project based assessment system in the country. It emphasized that even after 22 years experience of the country in doing individual assessment, the benefits are not seen at ground level and thus an area based planning could be a better approach. This was supported by participants and was evitable by the following presentation which highlighted that absence of proper land use planning, approach to environmental issues remains fragmented. 

The second session focused on the different alternative tools attempted for impact assessment.  The three tools particularly discussed include the “Carrying Capacity-based Developmental Planning” (CCDP), “Zoning Atlas” and as “Cumulative Environmental Pollution Index” (CEPI). The deliberation clearly appreciated the work done on these tools and agreed that these couldn’t be integrated in policy framework. The Zoning atlas and carrying capacity study conducted in 90’s had taken into extensive work and were important attempts for better developmental planning and impact assessment. Similarly, CEPI study, started in 2009-10 and revised in 2016, is also a good effort made by CPCB which assesses the pollution level in Industrial areas. However, it doesn’t include many urban areas where pollution levels are far higher than ambient levels and even than industrial areas. As far pollution data is concerned, quality of the data has also been in question. Implementation of CEPI has also been compromised as removal of ban on expansion and new project set-up has not been systematic. The session brought out the advantages and shortfalls of the various tools.

The session three, was on sharing experiences of impact assessment for giant projects like “Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor” and “Roadway & Highway project”. The case studies and examples as illustrated brought out the limitations of a project specific approach. It pointed out that the larger projects or projects of national importance should not depend on project specific and single clearance but should follow an area specific approach or regional planning. The day ended with a presentation on “Carrying capacity and regional planning study of Bhadrachalam River” which was followed by “Urban and Regional Development Plans Formulation and Implementation Guidelines (URDPFI)” both highlighting the importance of area based planning.

The second day of the workshop was focussed on CIA approach of impact assessment and clearances. The day started with a presentation on basic understanding of CIA which highlighted that CIA is also important for investors and can be a risk management tool.  Following presentations were to explore whether existing regulatory framework in India and other developing countries have provisions for CIA. An example of CIA with integrated land use planning in Germany was also shared. The participants believed that however CIA can give an understanding of environmental conditions during the lifecycle of the project, this requires periodical assessment. It can give the project proponent more certainty about not being later caught up into litigations or stopped, because the relevant issues are already taken into consideration comprehensively under CIA. It was shared that countries like US, Canada, South Africa China and Hong Kong have existing legal framework for CIA. It also came to be known that in developed countries like Germany, multi stakeholders are involved in the mechanism which is over looked by government and the municipalities at different levels in developing countries.

The second session on day two included experience sharing on CIA and carrying capacity studies carried by various institutions. The session gave overview of studies that have been conducted in India and challenges faced in conducting those studies. 

The last session of the workshop started with a presentation on the opportunities and demand of CIA framework in India.  It was discussed that the EIA based regulatory system has a narrow focus and its inability to provide clarity on identifying and assessing cumulative effect is a major drawback.  It was obvious that, there had been several CIA studies done, but a uniform procedure or guideline is not in place. The session brings it to notice that almost all the carrying capacity study done for projects have been done following the intervention by Judiciary.  The last segment of workshop was on group exercise and discussion based on the two days deliberation. The group of participants discussed and shared their views on following points: 

  1. Is existing Legal framework/ legislation adequate for CIA?

  2. Institution for data collection, collation and presentation required for CIA.

  3. Identification of stakeholders and their capacity building

Based on the inputs from participants following are the recommendations from the workshop.

Recommendations from the workshop

1. Recommendation on existing Legal framework/ legislation for CIA
Two different views of participants were noticed on adequacy of existing framework for CIA. One group was of the view that the present legal framework is adequate but there is a need of new notification under section 3 of E (P) Act and section 5 of E (P) Rule and guidelines/ criteria for projects of national significance such as cluster of industries, mining clusters, thermal power plants etc. This group suggested that CIA and land use plan should be incorporated into guidelines. 

In contrast, the other group was of the view that the current legal framework is not adequate. This group suggested that currently a short term and long term approach can be made for CIA. As a long term approach there should be a separate act on impact assessment and as a short term approach, CIA can be started for specific cases of concerns such as for critically polluted areas. They also mentioned that sector wise guidelines should be made and CIA should be mandatory.

There had been disagreement between two groups of participants on this point, however with valid reasons behind. It was agreed that the issue has certain complexity which needs further deliberation.

2. Recommendation on institution for data collection, collation and presentation required for CIA
The participants had unanimously agreed that that an independent institution is required which can access, collates, updates and provides required data for CIA. Currently data is collected by different agencies which are not uniform, not updated, not accessible to all. The participants recommended that a dedicated central institution, not necessarily government owned, should be there for this purpose. Since the quality of data is a matter of concern, it was recommended that the institution maintaining the data should also keep a check on quality of the data.

3. Identification of stakeholders and recommendation on their capacity building
Views on stakeholders’ capacity building for CIA were also similar among Participants. Following stakeholders were identified by both the groups:

  • Regulators (SPCB/CPCB/MOEF&CC): They have a very important role to play in CIA. It was recommended that MOEF&CC should come up with some general guidelines and manuals mentioning conditions when CIA should be mandatory and how it shall be conducted. Capacity building of the stakeholders through trainings, workshops and infrastructure development need to be done. 

  • State Departments (Revenue, Forest, Wildlife, Water, Agriculture, Fisheries, Land Use Planning agencies, urban development agencies, municipal authorities, panchayats etc.): A wide variety of stakeholders need to be involved in CIA framework which is presently missing. Not only they are required to be looped in, but also be trained on works they need to do in coherence.  

  • Consultants/ project proponents: Consultant has main role to play in this. It is important that their knowledge base is increased in this regard. They should be given trainings on how CIA can be conducted and will be beneficial for them in long run. 

  • Investors/ Banks: As investors, understanding of the collective environmental impacts of the proposed project and other already existing activities in the project area and in turn how these environmental impacts will affect the growth of the business is crucial. Thus trainings to understand the basics of CIA should be formulated for them. 

  • Environmental NGO’s / Civil Societies:  It was suggested that the role of project affected people should be increased in the clearance process and recommendations from them should be included. Also, the data should be available to public easily. 

  • Legal/ Judicial fraternities:  Their involvement is of importance and is increasing in present scenario. They should be given trainings on understanding of the subject. 

  • Academic Institutions: It was recommended that a curriculum should be devised involving the knowledge of different assessment tools at the academic level thus imparting knowledge at beginners’ level.


For any feedback/suggestion/query, please write to the undersigned

Sanjeev K. Kanchan 
Deputy Programme Manager | Environmental Governance- Industry
Centre for Science and Environment | 41, Tughlakabad Institutional Area, New Delhi-110062 
Phone: 011-29956110, 29955124-25, Extn.-266,  Fax: 011-29955879