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International Journal of Advances in Engineering & Technology, Sept. 2013.
©IJAET
ISSN: 22311963

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT THROUGH ENVIRONMENTAL
IMPACT ASSESSMENT FOR DEVELOPMENTAL PROJECTS –
AN OVERVIEW
Needhidasan.S1 and Thayumanavan.S2
1

2

Professor, Saveetha School of Engineering, Saveetha University, Chennai, India.
Fomerly Director, Centre for Environmental Studies, Anna University, Chennai, India.
sneedhidasan@gmail.com

ABSTRACT
UN conference on Environment and Development in its Agenda 21 underscored the importance of
environmental protection and conservation of the natural resource base. Environmental Impact Assessment
(EIA) can be the vital planning approach for sustainable development, if it is properly carried out. It is a useful
tool for promoting sustainable development because it includes many components that can facilitate equality in
every aspect and it can minimize environmental degradation by identifying problems before they occur. The
need to avoid adverse impacts due to developmental projects and to ensure long-term benefits led to the concept
of sustainability and EIA plays a major role here. EIA needs to show that it can contribute to poverty
alleviation, employment creation and improved economic development effectively towards sustainable
development. This paper outlines the global picture of EIA, where it lacks while implementing and how it can
be used effectively for developmental projects.

KEYWORDS: Assessment, EIA, Decision, Development, Impact & Sustainable

I.

INTRODUCTION

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is recognized as a key tool for sustainable development.
Balancing local socio-economic, political and ecological priorities is particularly challenging [1].
EIA needs to show that it can contribute to poverty alleviation, employment creation and improved
economic development effectively towards sustainable development. EIA, was introduced as a means
to accomplish this in the United States in the early 1970s and since then it has spread throughout the
world and the methodology has been developed and adapted to various purposes connected to
decision making at different levels in enterprises and society [2]. It has been applied to projects and
plans of various scales [3]. It is now quite evident that detailed, expensive, time consuming and
sophisticated EIA techniques used in many developed countries at present are unlikely to be of much
practical value for use in developing countries in an operational sense [4]. In the 1990s environmental
management has become an important issue in enterprises and EIA procedure was developed in order
to predict environmental impacts of any developmental activity and to provide an opportunity to
mitigate negative impacts and enhance positive impacts [5]. This paper expounds the development of
EIA in India and other countries, the link between sustainable development and EIA and the
challenges for effective use of EIA and its methods in detail.

II.

EIA AND ITS DEVELOPMENT

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) may be defined as a formal process used to predict the
environmental consequences of any development project and ensures that the potential problems are
foreseen and addressed at an early stage in the project planning and designing [6]. In other terms it
may also be defined as “a tool used to identify the environmental, social and economic impacts of a
project prior to decision-making. It aims to predict environmental impacts at an early stage in project

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International Journal of Advances in Engineering & Technology, Sept. 2013.
©IJAET
ISSN: 22311963
planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to suit the local
environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers”. At the project level, EIA is
a readymade tool for applying sustainable development criteria. It has to be undertaken for proposed
activities that are likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment. However, as
originally introduced in the US and subsequently developed elsewhere, environmental assessment
predates the sustainable development concept and does not automatically include its goals. Its own
goals, as a tool for local or national development planning, are closely related, but not identical.
Legislations related to EIA began appearing in developing countries' during the 1970s, shortly after
the United States enacted the first national EIA law, the National Environmental Protection Act
(NEPA) of 1969. Evolution of EIA is given below in the figure 1 and as per United Nations
Environment Program (UNEP) more than 175 countries have issued EIA laws, decrees, notifications,
guidelines and regulations respectively. In 1996, a special session was held on “The EIA Global
Guidelines project” at International Association for Impact Assessment, in Portugal, discussed the
need for principles and guidance on impact assessment in response to an emerging interest in
international standards.

Fig.1 Evolution of EIA

2.1. EIA in India and Other Nations – Present Scenario
In order to ensure sustainable development of water resources the Government of India have enacted
various acts and legislations. A beginning in this direction was made in India with the impact
assessment of river valley projects in 1978-79 and the scope has subsequently been enhanced to cover
other developmental sectors such as industries, thermal power projects, mining schemes etc. To
facilitate collection of environmental data and preparation of management plans, guidelines have been
evolved and circulated to the concerned Central and State Government Departments. Environmental
impact assessment (EIA) was first introduced in India based on the Environmental Protection Act
(EPA), 1986. But formally it came in to effect, when Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) has
passed a major legislative measure under EPA in January 1994 for Environmental Clearance (EC)
known as EIA Notification, 1994. Subsequently, EIA processes have been strengthened by MoEF by a
series of amendments. The current practice is adhering to EIA Notification, 2006 and its amendments
[7]. Though, there have been some improvements in the new edition over the previous one, it has
failed to meet the expectations of the various stakeholders, NGOs and local community. The new
Notification has tried bringing in more number of projects within the purview of the environmental
clearance process and most importantly, there is no categorization of projects requiring EIA based on

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International Journal of Advances in Engineering & Technology, Sept. 2013.
©IJAET
ISSN: 22311963
investment, rather size or capacity of the project determines whether it is cleared by the central or
state government.
Though there is clear mention of appraisal in the EIA process, there is no mention of post monitoring,
a very important part of the entire EIA process. The new EIA notification is a major disappointment
and could have been improved related to public consultation. The public consultation as was earlier
done will still be conducted at the end of the environment clearance process where there is very little
scope for the public to play any active role. There is a provision in the new notification where a
public consultation can totally be foregone if the authorities feel the situation is not conducive for
holding public hearing and this can limit the involvement of people. Further, the consultation process
has been divided into public hearing for local people and submission in writing from other interested
parties. The focus of the new Notification has been to reduce the time required for the entire
environment clearance process. The earlier process took around 400 to 600 days for Rapid EIA and
600 to 800 days for comprehensive EIA and in the new notification, the duration for a project is just
365 days [8], [9]. In general, though it seems as drawbacks, but majority it covers all the
requirements for effectively carrying out any developmental projects. The following table.1 shows
list of countries which has enacted and amended legislations for implementing EIA for sustainable
future.
Table.1: EIA legislations in several countries
S.No

Country

Legislation

01.

Australia

EIA guidelines given in 1974 and Environmental Protection Act
was enacted in 1974. Apart from this, Environmental Protection
and Biodiversity Conservation Act were also introduced in 1999.

02.

Canada

03.

China

04.

Egypt

05.

European Union

06.

Malaysia

07.

New Zealand

08.

Russia

09.

The Netherlands

10.

USA

Canadian Environmental Assessment Act was introduced in 1995
and the same revised in 2012.
Environmental Impact Assessment Law is enacted and
Environmental Protection Bureau has to monitor EIA.
EIA under Ministry of State of for Environmental affairs and
Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency is responsible for EIA
services.
Directive on EIA was introduced in 1985 and amended in 1997.
Further it was revised and amended in 2003 and 2009. In 2001
Strategic Environmental Assessment directive was also introduced.
Environmental Quality Act 1974 was introduced.
Environmental Protection and Enhancement Procedures was
introduced in 1974. Resource Management Act was passed in
1991, where EIA is included.
The Federal Law on Ecological Expertise was introduced in 1995
and the Regulations on Assessment of Impact from intended
business and other activity on Environment was introduced in
2000. As of 2004, State authority is responsible for conducting
EIA.
EIA was implemented in Dutch legislation in 1987.
National Environmental Policy Act was introduced in 1969 and
enacted in 1970.

2.2. Functions of EIA
EIA is a planning tool that is now generally accepted as an integral component of sound decisionmaking. The objective of EIA is to foresee and address potential environmental problems/concerns at
an early stage of project planning and design. The need to avoid adverse impacts and to ensure longterm benefits led to the concept of sustainability. Therefore EIA should assist planners and
government authorities in the decision making process by identifying the key impacts/issues and
formulating mitigation measures. The main functions of EIA are predicting problems, to find ways to

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International Journal of Advances in Engineering & Technology, Sept. 2013.
©IJAET
ISSN: 22311963
avoid them, to enhance positive effects and to go for alternatives if necessary. EIA provides a unique
opportunity to demonstrate ways in which the environment can be improved as part of the
development process and it enables monitoring programs to be established to assess future impacts
and provide data on which managers can take informed decisions to avoid environmental damage.
The overview of the EIA process is represented in figure 2.

Fig.2 Overview of EIA Process
(Source: The manual in perspective, EIA Training Resource Manual, UNEP 2002.)

2.3. Purpose of EIA
EIA is intended to identify the impacts (both beneficial and adverse) of proposed public and private
development activities. Often, the focus is dominantly environmental (biophysical); but best practice
also addresses social and economic aspects. EIA is mainly used at the level of specific developments
and projects such as dams, industrial plants, transportation infrastructure (e.g. Airport runways and
roads), farm enterprises, natural resource exploitation (e.g. Sand extraction). EIA is most valuable
when applied early in the planning process for a project as a support to decision-making. It provides a
means to identify the most environmentally suitable options at an early stage, the best practicable
environmental option, and alternatives to the proposed initiative; and thus avoid or minimize potential
damaging and costly negative impacts, and maximize positive impacts [10], [11].

III.

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND EIA

The concept sustainable development was only introduced into the global environmental debate in the
1980s as an expression of the interdependence between economic development, the natural

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International Journal of Advances in Engineering & Technology, Sept. 2013.
©IJAET
ISSN: 22311963
environment and people and it is given diagrammatically in the figure 3. The most widely accepted
definition of sustainable development describes it as ‘development that meets the needs of the present
without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs and aspirations’ [12].
Sustainable development seeks to establish a path along which development can progress while
enhancing the quality of life of people and ensuring the viability of the natural systems on which that
development depends. The World Commission on Environment and Development also emphasizes
governance and suggests the basic requirements for the achievement of sustainable development like,
a political system that secures effective citizen participation in decision-making, an economic system
that is able to generate surpluses and technical knowledge on a self-reliant and sustained basis, a
social system that provides solutions to relieve the tensions arising from disharmonious development,
a production system that respects the obligation to preserve the ecological base for development, a
technological system that can search continuously for new solutions and an administrative system that
is flexible and has the capacity for self-correction [13].

Fig.3 Sustainable Development and EIA

3.1. Fundamental Principles of Sustainable Development
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) definition is an alternative wording of the more
widely used definition of sustainable development derived from the report of the World Commission
on Environment and Development, chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland. The principle of
intergenerational equity stated in this much quoted extract encapsulates one of the main themes of the
Brundtland report [12] and may be regarded as one of the fundamental pillars of the sustainable
development concept. At first glance, the UNEP definition of sustainable development is more
meaningful than Brundtland’s or Rio’s. It defines both development (improving the quality of human
life) and sustainability (living within the environment’s carrying capacity), in terms that are more
immediately understandable than the Rio and WCED equivalents. However, in doing so the
definition becomes little more than a statement of the obvious. That's the goal of development is to
improve the quality of human life is not in dispute, nor is the need to stay within the carrying capacity
of supporting ecosystems. If development passes the test of equity, it can be left to those people

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International Journal of Advances in Engineering & Technology, Sept. 2013.
©IJAET
ISSN: 22311963
themselves to decide what is important for their quality of life and what constitutes an improvement in
itself. Intergenerational equity therefore is the only test needed have whether the development is true
development, in Rio’s terms. This is particularly relevant in environmental assessment, where public
participation processes allow people to decide quality of life issues for themselves. Meanwhile,
although the concept of carrying capacity introduced by the UNEP addresses environmental
considerations directly, it tends to be less useful than the principle of intergenerational equity that it
replaces. This is because carrying capacity is often even more difficult to measure than equity; “we
usually only discover its limits after we have exceeded them. Carrying capacity continues to change
just as rapidly, with the advent and take-up of some technologies that increase it and others that
decrease it. It is a moving target, which can be useful for planning development activities, particularly
when they involve choices between relevant technologies. Where it is measurable, it can be useful as
a way of interpreting the principle of intergeneration equity. However, its variability makes it rather
less useful [14], [15].
As a general test for sustainable development, these are the steps to be followed while implementing
developmental projects.
1. Preliminary activities: Includes the collection of background information as soon as a project has
been identified apart from the selection of team members.
2. Impact identification: Involves a broad analysis of the impacts of project activities with a view of
identifying those, which are worthy of a detailed study.
3. Baseline study: Collection of detailed information and data on the condition of the project area
prior to the project's implementation.
4. Impact evaluation: Should be done whenever possible in quantitative terms and should include the
working-out of potential mitigation measures. Impact evaluation cannot proceed until project
alternative has been defined, but should be completed early enough to permit decisions to be made in
a timely fashion.
5. Assessment: Involves combining environmental losses and gains with economic costs and benefits
to procedure a complete account to each project alternative.
6. Documentation: It describes the work done in the EIA. A working document is prepared to
provide clearly stated and argued recommendations for immediate action. The working document
should contain a list of project alternatives with comments on the environmental and economic
impacts of each.
7. Decision-making: It begins when the working document reaches the decision making body, who
will either accept one of the project alternatives, request further study or reject the proposed action
altogether.
8. Post audits: These are made to determine how close to reality the EIA predictions were.

IV.

CHALLENGES FOR EFFECTIVE USE OF EIA AND ITS METHODS

Impact assessment tools have been applied internationally to ensure that proposed actions are
economically viable, socially equitable and environmentally sustainable for development projects
[15]. There is also a need to dispel the impression that EIA is an obstructive process that keeps
people in poverty rather than one that ensures future generations will enjoy resource security and a
good quality of life [16]. A common, simple and inexpensive method is the checklist. These can be of
different types. The following are the most commonly adopted methods.
Simple checklists list the components or aspects, usually of the environment that might be considered
by the assessor but no other assistance is provided to guide the impact identification process.
Descriptive checklists provide additional assistance by indicating, for example, the specific variables
to be measured to characterize each component.
Scaling checklists go a step further and include simple devices for assessing importance or
significance of suspected impacts. This might be through the use of a letter or numeric scales,
assigned after comparison with criteria supplied in the checklist, to indicate the importance of an
impact. Another approach is to use threshold values, based on statutory criteria (e.g. for water quality
standards) or on derived measures (e.g. Visitor carrying-capacity for a given locality). The suspected
impact can be estimated in broad terms and given a value to represent its significance. On that basis, a
start can be made by comparing and ranking alternative project options. The last type, the

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International Journal of Advances in Engineering & Technology, Sept. 2013.
©IJAET
ISSN: 22311963
questionnaire checklist, is a form of scaling checklist but uses a series of carefully directed questions
to elicit information about possible impacts and their likelihood Importance.
Matrices, a more detailed approach is given here, where project activities are cross-tabulated with
environmental components. Also matrices can be made quite simple or be developed into a stage with
a large amount of information. The strength of the matrix approach is the usefulness in designing
further studies, the inexpensive nature (also true for checklists) and their comprehensiveness.
Limitations may be an inability to handle indirect impacts and temporal aspects, a potential rigidity of
categories, and a difficulty to get an overview when many variations are included. In many cases the
numbers of magnitude and severity of impact are included on a very poor basis ("this feels larger than
the other"). Thus many matrices used give much less and lower quality information than thought on
first impression.

V.

CONCLUSIONS

EIA is internationally recognized as a key tool to guide us on a path to sustainable development and
most countries have progressed significantly over the past decade with the introduction of formal
systems for the implementation of the EIA. Though strong judicial establishments and legislative
provisions are available throughout the world, implementing the mandatory requirements is still
lacking and this lead to several environmental and socio-economic problems. It is no doubt that it is a
management tool for planners and decision makers as shown in figure 4, but lacks in giving thrust for
public involvement [17]. It should involve policy makers, bureaucrats and public to work together to
decide on the pros and cons of the project before its implementation. Only when more importance is
given to public participation or involvement in deciding and executing the project then rightly we can
say it as a decision making tool aims for facilitate sustainable development. A key output of the EIA
should be an action plan to be followed during implementation and after implementation during the
monitoring phase. For example all new irrigation and water resources development results in some
form of degradation and this may extend both upstream and downstream of the irrigated area [18],
[19]. It is the key that in its application, practitioners, developers and decision-makers ensure that the
important social and economic issues facing the region are addressed alongside the traditional
biophysical issues. The implementation of EIA should be tested for minor projects with short
duration before being implemented for major developmental projects. The stage is, therefore, set for
EIA to play a more important role. Beneficial environmental effects are maximized while adverse
effects are ameliorated or avoided to the greatest extent possible to meet the need of the future
generation without affecting the present.

Fig.4 EIA for decision-making process

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©IJAET
ISSN: 22311963

REFERENCES
[1]. ADB, (1992), “Guidelines for the Health Impact Assessment of Development Projects”, Asian
Development Bank, Manila, The Philippines.
[2]. Ahmad Y., Sammy G., (1998), “Public Involvement: Guidelines to EIA in Developing Countries”,
Hodder and Stoughton, London.
[3]. Bisset.R, (1988), “Developments in EIA methods”, Environmental Impact Assessment – Theory and
Practice, London UK.
[4]. Biswas Asit.K, (1992), “Environmental Impact Assessment for groundwater management”,
International Journal of Water Resources Development, 8: 2, 113-117.
[5]. CWC, (1992), “Guidelines for Sustainable Water Resources Development and Management”, Central
Water Commission, India.
[6]. Dougherty TC., Hally AM., (1995), “Environmental Impact Assessment of irrigation and drainage
projects”, FAO.
[7]. Jitendra K. Panigrahi, Susruta Amirapu (2012), “An assessment of EIA system in India”,
Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 35: 23-36.
[8]. MoEF
(2001)
Environmental
impact
assessment:
a
manual.
http://envfor.nic.in/divisions/iass/eia/cover.htm Impact assessment division, Ministry of Environment
and Forest, Government of India.
[9]. MoEF. The environment impact assessment notification S.O.1533 (E). New Delhi, India: Ministry of
Environment and Forest, Government of India; 2006.
[10]. Needhidasan.S, Thayumanavan.S (2012), “Environmental Impact Assessment – A Decision making
tool for Water Resources Projects in India”, International Journal of advanced Scientific and Technical
Research, 2(5), 139-145.
[11]. Pundarikanthan NV., Ravichandran S., (1994), “Environmental study in vembakottai reservoir of
Vaipar basin, a medium scale irrigation project in Tamilnadu”, an Anna University publication,
Chennai.
[12]. WCED (1987), “Our common future”, Oxford University Press, New York.
[13]. Rajaram T, Das A. Need for participatory and sustainable principles in India's EIA system: lessons
from the Sethusamudram Ship Channel project. Impact Assess Proj Appraisal 2006;24:115–26
[14]. Mock JF, Bolton P., (1993), “The ICID Environmental Checklist to Identify Environmental Effects of
Irrigation”, Drainage and Flood Control Projects, HR Wallingford, UK.
[15]. IAIA (2002), “Statement on impact assessment to the Third Preparatory Committee Meeting of the
World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD)”, New York, Fargo, USA.
[16]. Wramner P., 1989, Procedures for EIA of FAO's field projects. FAO 1989, Rome, Italy.
[17]. Sinclair AJ, Diduck AP. Public involvement in environmental impact assessment: a case study of
hydro development in Kullu district, Himachal Pradesh, India. Impact Assess Proj Apprais
2000;18(1):63–75.
[18]. Modak P., Biswas A., (1999), “Conducting Environmental Impact Assessment in Developing
countries”, United Nations University Press Toronto, New York, Paris.
[19]. Mohd Elmuntasir I Ahmed., (2008), “A comparative study of International EIA Guidelines and the
Sudan EIA experience”, Nile Basin Water Engineering Scientific Magazine, Vol 1.

AUTHORS
Needhidasan.S, is working as Professor in Department of Civil Engineering, Saveetha
School of Engineering, Saveetha University, Chennai. He received his B.E, Civil
Engineering from Alagappa Chettiar College of Engineering & Technology, Karaikudi
and Master of Engineering in Irrigation Water Management from College of Engineering
Guindy, Anna University, Chennai. He also completed his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering
and his areas of interest are Water Resources Engineering and Environmental
Management. He has more than 15 years of experience in Academics and Industry and
published more than 25 Research papers in the International and National Journals and in Conferences.
Thayumanavan.S, is formerly Professor and Head, Department of Civil Engineering, Centre for Water
Resources and Director, Centre for Environmental Studies, Anna University, Chennai. He has completed
his Doctoral Research from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and his areas of interest are Water
Resources and Hydraulics Engineering. He has guided several students at their Master’s and Doctoral
level and published many research papers in the reputed International and National Journals. After his post
retirement, presently working as Visiting Faculty in Centre for Water Resources, Anna University, Chennai.

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