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 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.
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 (NWPES) also require the carrying out of an IEE/EIA report regarding prescribed projects.
What are the PAAs?
The Extraordinary Gazettes bearing No. 269/14 dated 23.02.1995, No. 978/13 dated 04.06.1997 and No. 1373/6 of 29.12.2004 specify the State Agencies that are PAAs. The following are recognized as PAAs.
The respective Ministries to which the following subjects are assigned,
- Nation Planning
- Aquatic Resources
- Plantation Industries
Relevant departments and authorities,
- The Department of Coast Conservation
- The Department of Wildlife Conservation
- The Urban Development Authority
- The Central Environmental Authority (CEA)
- The Geological Survey and Mines Bureau
- The Ceylon Tourist Board
- The Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka
- The Board of Investment (BOI) of Sri Lanka
- Forest Department
Determining the Relevant PAA
The statutes and regulations relating to the IEE/EIA process, provide criteria that are necessary to determine the relevant PAA for each prescribed project. The nature, scope, location of the proposed project, who has jurisdiction over the relevant area, possible environmental impacts of the project are important factors in determining the PAA.
- The Department of Coast Conservation is the PAA for prescribed projects that are proposed to be conducted within the Coastal Zone.
- The Board of Investment is the PAA for prescribed projects that are proposed to be carried out within BOI zones.
- The North Western Province Environmental Authority is the PAA for all prescribed projects that are proposed to be carried out within the North Western Province.
The Role of a PAA
The statutes and regulations relating to the IEE/EIA process, state the duties of a PAA. In addition, the CEA also has issued general guidance to PAAs regarding the implementation of the IEE/EIA process.
According to the regulations, every Project Proponent (PP) of a prescribed project is required to provide Preliminary Information (PI) of the project to the PAA. The Preliminary Information should consist of a description of the project, location, nature and scope. After going through the information, the PAA can request the PP to provide them with additional information or can instruct the PP to prepare an IEE or EIA report. The PAA provides the PP with the Terms of Reference (TOR) according to which the IEE/EIA should be prepared.
It is the duty of the PP to prepare an IEE and EIA report as instructed by the relevant PAA. An IEE is done for a project that has less environmental impacts whereas an EIA is done regarding a project that has substantial environmental impacts. Once the IEE/EIA is submitted, the PAA has to check whether it complies with the TOR and if not satisfied, can request the PP to amend the report and to resubmit it. If the PAA is satisfied with the report, the PAA must give notice via Gazette/ newspaper to invite the public to inspect and make comments on the EIA (for NWPES both IEE and EIA) within 30 days.
After the comments are submitted, the PAA has to decide whether a public hearing is necessary for the particular project. If the PAA thinks it is in the public interest, they may hold a public hearing. Factors such as the high levels of social and environmental impacts of the project, the highly controversial nature of the particular project and whether a formal request for a public hearing has been made by interested parties may influence the PAA to hold public hearings.
The PAA should grant approval for the project subject to conditions or refuse approval by giving reasons. A PP aggrieved by such refusal can appeal to the Secretary of the Ministry in charge of the subject of Environment. Once the project is approved, it is the duty of the PAA to consistently monitor the project. According to the regulations, the PAA is required to submit to the CEA a report which contains a plan to monitor the implementation of every approved project within 30 days of granting such approval.
In order to ensure that the ultimate purpose of preparing an IEE/ EIA report is fulfilled, a PAA has to ensure the compliance of all laws and regulations in the IEE/EIA process. The PAA is under a duty to carefully analyze the IEE and EIA reports to determine their adequacy. For this purpose, it is important that PAA refers to Guidelines issued by the CEA and obtain advice from relevant experts.
Also, it is vital that adequate attention is given to the concerns of the public and relevant actions are taken to address them. The duties of a PAA does not end after granting approval to a project but extends throughout the implementation of the project. Effective monitoring of the project is imperative to ensure that the project is carried out according to the given approval.
List of References
- Central Environmental Authority – Guidance for Implementing the EIA Process, No. 01: A General Guide for Project Approving Agencies (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1JPmEmhUftjjF8VSgLzZPRwwYIneA_fTz/view)
- 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)
- Environmental Foundation (Guarantee) Ltd. – Relevant Laws, Regulations and Guidelines regarding IEE/EIAs (https://efl.lk/relevant-laws-regulations-and-guidelines/#1622818823842-b4358952-bd67)
- SK Hennayake, A Hewage, MS Wijeratne and SE Yasaratne (Eds) – Environmental Impact Assessment: The Sri Lankan Experience (https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNACF382.pdf)