By: Chamindri Liyanage
According to the Sri Lankan law, all development projects that are prescribed under the law are required to obtain prior approval from the relevant Project Approving Agency (PAA) upon submitting an Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) report or an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report.
The National Environmental Act, No.47 of 1980 (as amended) is the key legislation that stipulates the IEE/EIA process. In addition, the Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management Act, No.57 of 1981 (as amended), Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, No.02 of 1937 (as amended) and the North Western Province Environmental Statute, No. 12 of 1990 also require the carrying out of an IEE/EIA report regarding prescribed projects.
The purpose of carrying out an IEE or an EIA report is to ensure that the particular project is sustainable and all possible environmental consequences of the project are identified and adequately mitigated by the design of the project.
- An IEE is done for a project that has less environmental impacts.
- An EIA is done regarding a project that has substantial environmental impacts.
Once the PAA issues the Terms of Reference (TOR), it is the duty of the Project Proponent (PP) to prepare and submit the EIA to the relevant PAA. Usually, EIA reports are prepared by consultants hired by the PP. Once the EIA is submitted by the PP, it is the duty of the PAA to check the adequacy of the report and to check whether the prepared EIA complies with the TOR. If the PAA is not satisfied with the EIA, PP has to amend the EIA and re-submit the report.
What Is an EIA Report?
Section 33 of the National Environmental Act (NEA) defines an EIA as follows:
Requisites of an EIA Report
According to the NEA definition, an EIA must contain inter alia the following:
- an environmental cost-benefit analysis,
- a description of the avoidable and unavoidable adverse environmental effects of the proposed prescribed project and
- a description of alternatives to the activity which might be less harmful to the environment, with the reasons why such alternatives were rejected.
The general guidance issued by the Central Environmental Authority recognizes primary areas that need to be addressed in an EIA report. They are: the physical, biological and social aspects that will be directly or indirectly affected by the project, water resources, pollution issues, soil and land use, forests, wildlife and biological diversity, socio-cultural and economic conditions. Inadequate consideration of these areas/topics in an EIA report can be a reason for a project to be rejected by a PAA.
An EIA report must address the cost-benefits of the particular project and provide feasible measures to monitor the project. In the Water’s Edge case, judges noticed that adequate attention was not given in the EIA report regarding the appropriate monitoring measures. The Court emphasized the importance of analyzing the costs and benefits of a project and investigating the viability of the mitigatory measures in more detail. The Court also observed that although the EIA report warned of irreversible ecosystem changes and habitat fragmentation, the Urban Development Authority neglected them and conveyed the disputed land for the project. Accordingly, the Court held that the project is not in the interest of the public and nullified the land conveyance.
It is also important that the EIA provides feasible solutions to mitigate adverse impacts of the project. The Southern Expressway is a project that faced various environmental issues throughout the construction and operation of the expressway. Here, the EIA and supplementary studies provided recommendations on how to mitigate the hydrological impacts including the interception of water flow. But, the feasibility of such recommendations is a question since the expressway was subject to heavy flooding and to several landslides in the recent past.
Social Impact Assessment
It is also an important component of an EIA report. Inadequate consideration on social impacts of a project can cause the public to oppose the project since a large number of displacements and resettlements can cause several social implications to the evicted people. These include: landlessness, physical and psychological marginalization, social insecurity, the loss of social and cultural value of ancestral homes and the breakdown of livelihoods. The Southern Expressway and Katunayake Expressway projects are examples of projects that were subject to heavy public opposition. Numerous cases opposing the projects were filed by the residents in the affected areas and as a result, projects were delayed for years.
It is apparent from the above discussion that the content of an EIA report is of paramount importance in identifying, mitigating and avoiding possible adverse impacts of a project. Adequate consideration of socio-economic, environmental and cultural impacts of a particular project needs to be addressed in an EIA to ensure that a project is carried out in a sustainable manner.
As Amerasinghe J. stated in the Eppawela case, a well prepared EIA:
“… can identify the potential threats of a proposed activity or project, and that this information can then be used to modify the proposed activity in order to take these threats into account. Remedial measures can also be introduced in order to mitigate or reduce any perceived detrimental impacts of the project. In this sense, therefore, an Environmental Act can be instrumental in establishing exactly which areas of the proposed project, or activity that requires precautionary or preventive measures in order to ensure the overall environmental viability of the project.”
List of References
- Bulankulama and Others v Secretary, Ministry of Industrial Development and Others  3 Sri LR 243 (Eppawela Case) (https://www.lawnet.gov.lk/bulankulama-and-others-v-sectretary-ministry-of-industrial-development-a/)
- Central Environmental Authority – Guidance for Implementing the EIA Process: No. 02 – A General Guide for Conducting Environmental Scoping (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1pElzKYp8OiJt2MtP0STVzmTUt-ggCqbl/view)
- P. Sarojini – Socio-Economic Implications on Southern Highway Project: Special Reference to Evicted People (http://ir.kdu.ac.lk/handle/345/1625)
- Shantha Hennayake, A. Hewage, M.S. Wijeratne and S.E. Yasaratne- Environmental Impact Assessment: The Sri Lankan Experience
- Sugathapala Mendis and Another v Chandrika Kumaratunga and Others  2 Sri LR 339 (Water’s Edge Case) (https://www.lawnet.gov.lk/sugathapala-mendis-and-another-v-chandrika-kumaratunga-and-others-waters/)