In Sri Lanka, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) system and the Environmental Protection License (EPL) processes are the two main regulatory tools used for environmental protection and management.
Whilst the EIA system focuses on ‘pre-project’ planning and approval processes, EPL is a mechanism which regulates and measures ‘post-project’ environmental protection and quality. The legal framework for EIA system for the entire country was first enacted under the National Environmental Act (No. 56) in 1988. The procedures stipulated in the act mandate EIA, for only ‘prescribed projects’ which needed clearance by designated project approving agencies (PAAs), led by the Central Environmental Authority (CEA). The PAAs are EIA administrative agencies responsible for guiding the preparation of an EIA and initial environmental examination (IEE) for projects falling under their purview. The PAAs bear the responsibility of providing EIA approval or rejection and all other decisions associated with it.
From a procedural perspective, EIA involves six major steps.
- preparation of the EIA/IEE report
- review of the report
- approval with terms and conditions or rejection with reasons
- environmental management and monitoring
The Sri Lankan EIA experience offers a number of lessons. Despite gaps, the inefficiencies and scope for improvement, EIA has clearly served a useful purpose in the country’s development planning process. For example, it has been able to bring an element of sustainability, transparency, and public participation of substantial development initiatives nationally. At the same time, a review of the EIA system undertaken jointly by the CEA and World Bank in 2012 identifies a number of the system’s challenges and constraints for an effective and efficient performance in Sri Lanka, including capacities of the project approving agencies, EIA report quality, post-approval monitoring of EIA approval conditions and governances related barriers.
As a result, the report proposes options to address these challenges and constraints on its way forward. The CEA of Sri Lanka has already initiated actions to implement some of the recommendations provided by this study. However, certain areas remain unaddressed due to the lack of political and institutional attention and constraints on resources. Some of the key neglected issues are,
- Post approval monitoring of EIA approval conditions
- Improving the transparency of the EIA process.
In order to address these issues, EFL has proposed the following:
Third party independent monitoring of post approval EIA conditions
Post approval monitoring of EIA approval conditions have been weak or almost non-existent since its inception which questions its benefits and its impacts on the sustainability of the country’s development process. The CEA attributes the lack of post approval monitoring to inadequate staff to carry out regular monitoring. In the EIA review report of 2012, the CEA accepts that third party monitoring would be an immediate solution for this issue considering the tedious process of recruiting additional staff to a government authority. However, no action has yet been taken in this regard. The use of third party monitoring will also give an opportunity to conduct independent auditing, particularly for projects directly managed by the government. There is a significant role for EFL, being the premier environmental conservation and justice organisation in Sri Lanka that can perform as a third party for promotional activities of the project and carry out independent monitoring of compliance of EIA conditions. To elaborate;
- Firstly, EFL can directly involve as an independent third party, monitoring post EIA approval conditions of selected large government development projects, bringing more independence to the current system than a government regulatory agency monitoring another government development agency.
- Secondly, EFL can provide training to other civil society organisations in matters such as the processes and methodology of third part monitoring so that a critical mass of third party independent monitoring NGOs will be available in Sri Lanka.
Capacity building of Civil Society Organisations on EIA process to improve public participation and ensure transparency of the process
While the National Environmental Act (NEA) mandates public disclosure, public participation in the process would require further strengthening. Hence, strong public participation can play a significant role in ensuring the transparency of EIA system. Knowledge of the EIA process and the role that the public can play to influence the process are so far the weakest amongst regional stakeholders. Many NGOs, particularly the smaller, rural and civil society organisations (CSOs) require strengthening and capacity building to be able to engage effectively in the EIA process as a stakeholder. Thus,
- EFL can assist training NGOs and CSOs through conducting a ‘train the trainers’ programmes and build capacity of regional NGOs to undertake training of other NGOs and CSOs;
- EFL can also undertake training of third party monitoring of smaller, rural projects for rural NGOs and CSOs during the ‘train the trainers’ programmes.