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Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.
The Central Environmental Authority identifies Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a tool used to identify the likely effects of a certain project on the environment at an early stage which also looks at ways to minimise destructive impacts and to shape the project in an environmentally sustainable manner.
In Sri Lanka, laws pertaining to the Environmental Impact Assessment is laid down in the Coast Conservation Act, No.57 of 1981, National Environmental (Amendment) Act, No. 56 of 1988, Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance and the North Western Provincial Council Environmental Statute.
In Sri Lanka EIA was first introduced by the Coast Conservation (Amendment) Act No. 57 of 1981. This applies to projects that come within the “Coastal Zone”. The “Coastal Zone” comprises of the area lying within a limit of 300 meters land ward of the mean high water line and a limit of 2 kilo meters seawards of the mean low water line. Under the Act, identification of projects that require EIA is left to the discretion of the Director, Coast Conservation Department.
The National Environmental (Amendment) Act No. 56 of 1988 introduced EIA, as a part of the strategy to achieve sustainable development for the entire country and the Central Environmental Authority was assigned regulatory functions.
Part IV C of the amendment act mandated that all “prescribed” development projects are required to be subjected to Environmental Impact Assessment. Only large scale development projects that are likely to have significant impacts on environment are listed as prescribed projects. In addition “prescribed projects” if located in “environmental sensitive areas” are required to undergo EIA irrespective of their magnitude.
The prescribed projects are listed in the gazette No 772/22 of 24th June 1993, 859/14 of 23rd February 1995, 1104/22 of 5th November 1999 and 1108/1 of 29th November 1999. The National Environmental Act has identified two levels in the EIA process. If the environmental impacts of the project are not very significant then the project proponent may be asked to do an Initial Environmental Examination (IEE), which is a relatively short and simple study. However, if the potential impacts appear to be more significant, the project proponent may be asked to do an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which is a more detailed and comprehensive study of environmental impacts.
EIA provisions are also included in the Fauna and Flora (Amended) Act No. 49 of 1993. According to this Act, any development activity of any description what so ever proposed to be established within one mile from the boundary of any National Reserve, is required to be subject to EIA, and written approval should be obtained from the Director General, Department of Wild Life Conservation prior to implementation of such projects.
For any prescribed project that is taking place in the North Western Province, the Statue requires prject developers to carryout an EIA where the Project Approving Agency is the North Western Province Environmental Authority.