Development and its impact on the environment has long been a contentious issue in India, where lack of adequate monitoring and control mechanisms have led to severe degradation of land, water and forest resources. Mining activities in Goa have not only poisoned its land and water, but also affected livelihoods by negatively impacting agriculture, fisheries and forests.
While Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) are to assess the effect of developmental activities on the environment, there is no comprehensive study available on the quality of EIA reports or the ways in which issues are represented in these reports. The paper ‘A critical evaluation of environmental impact assessments: a case study of Goa mines, India’ published in Current Science discusses the findings of a study that evaluated EIA reports from 65 mines in Goa.
What is Environmental Impact Assessment?
EIA is a process to assess the socio-economic, cultural and human health impacts of proposed developmental projects on the environment. According to the United Nation's Environment Programme (UNEP), EIA can be greatly helpful in predicting the environmental impacts of interventions at the early stages of project planning and design. It can also aid in finding ways to reduce adverse impacts, shape and redesign projects to suit the local environment and provide alternative solutions to decision-makers.
EIAs can lead to reformulation or even rejection of proposed projects in case the negative environmental impacts outweigh the positive benefits of the proposed activity. For example, the EIA notification of 1994 states that concealing data or producing false or misleading data, decisions or recommendations in a report can lead to rejection of projects.
Mining in Goa
Goa, the smallest state in India, is also a biodiversity hot spot, home to 27% of the country’s total flowering plant species and 56% of the country’s evergreen tree species. This flora in turn forms critical habitat for a variety of fauna. Goa is blessed with the densely forested Western Ghats to the east; it has nine rivers flowing through its hilly midlands and rich coastal plains with mangrove ecosystems and paddy fields. There has been some effort to protect this rich biodiversity by establishing national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
However, Goa’s hilly midlands are rich in iron and manganese ore. This has led to large scale mining in the region, which has spelled doom for the state’s rich biodiversity. A total of 79 mines located mainly in Bicholim, Sattari, Sanguem, Dharbandora and Quepem talukas, have been in operation in Goa. Uncontrolled and illegal mining in the area has raised considerable public concern, as reflected in the Justice Shah Commission report on illegal mining .
The study finds that mining has led to:
- A negative impact on agricultural productivity:
- Accumulation of dust on plant leaves, which has been found to in turn negatively impact photosynthesis, respiration and transpiration. This also possibly allows gaseous toxic pollutants to enter plants, leading to decreased productivity
- Severe depletion of groundwater and destruction of springs and other water sources
- Siltation of agricultural land and orchards
- Breaking of estuarine khazan (will add link for description) land bunds due to transfer of iron and manganese ores through boats in rivers
- Pollution of water and soil due to oil and iron and manganese deposits
- Destruction of grazing lands
- Loss of fish and shellfish productivity due to increased turbidity, sedimentation and oil, iron and manganese pollution of the water
- Destruction of sacred groves and forests
- Disturbance to wildlife due to noise and vibrations
- Traffic congestion and road accidents
- Negative effects of air, water and noise pollution on human health
- Loss of livelihoods for those employed in fisheries, agriculture, horticulture and forestry
- Rise in social conflicts due to unequal distribution of resources and economic gains, increase in immigrants and rise in liquor sales
Environmental impact assessment reports of poor quality
The mining sector in India is known to be riddled with problems. According to the report “Out of control: Mining, regulatory failure and human rights in India,” India’s government often leaves mining companies to regulate themselves, giving companies control of decision making regarding assessing the impact of mining on the people and environment. This has proven to be disastrous for India and for countries around the world.
Thus, the process followed to prepare the EIA reports is many a time hopelessly dysfunctional and controlled by the very companies who are seeking permission to mine in the area. The reports that are brought out are inaccurate, deliberately falsified and reflect total disregard for the environment and rights of the people who are affected by mining.
This study too finds that the documentation of the background situation / contexts in the mining areas is very poor, making it difficult to evaluate the impacts of mining on the environment.
The quality of EIAs is also poor due to lack of adequate information on:
- The type and number of water resources within the mine lease areas and the adjoining boundaries. This is critical to understand/evaluate the impact of mining on local water sources.
- The people living in the area, their socioeconomic status and kind of work they are engaged in. This is vital to evaluate the impact of mining on the livelihoods of local communities, such as agriculture and fishing.
- Actual distances between the boundaries of mine leases and protected areas;
- The flora and fauna of the mine lease and buffer areas; and
- Air, noise and water pollution
The paper suggests the following steps to deal with the gaps in the EIA reports
- Making the process of generating reports transparent and involving local communities in the process.
- Examining development interventions from the point of view of environmental and socio-economic sustainability and stimulating proper scrutiny of possible alternatives for meeting developmental objectives.
- On-going monitoring of the project consequences, including environmental and socio-economic impacts to ensure that the suggested safeguards are being adequately implemented.
- Conducting a thorough and periodic review of environmental clearance processes.
The paper puts forth some suggestions to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, GoI. The authors say that local communities should be encouraged to play a key role in the EIA process, and should be involved in the preparation, monitoring and implementation of environmental management plans. Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) should be established and empowered at the local level, to regulate the use of local biodiversity resources and to charge collection fees. Citizens should be empowered to monitor the status of the environment through environmental monitoring schemes such as ‘Paryavaran Vahini’ of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of Goa.
Further, the Environmental Clearance (EC) process can be reformed by assigning the preparation of EIA statements to a neutral competent body and by making it mandatory to:
- Involve local BMCs in the EIA preparation process
- Consider all information submitted and suggestions made during public hearings
- Meet environmental clearance requirements
- Involve local BMCs in the process of monitoring the implementation of ECs
- Prepare regional cumulative EIAs.
Last but not least, the paper’s authors suggest organising a transparent, participatory database on the environment.
View the full paper here