Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process and the law have to be completely restructured in order to mitigate the impact of development projects on the environment, the Centre for Environmental Justice said.
“Due to the shortcomings in the current EIA process, many controversial projects were approved without considering all the impacts. These projects include Hambantota Harbour, Uma Oya, Mattala Airport, Colombo Port City, Yan Oya, and so on,” Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Justice, Hemantha Withanage expressed these views at a seminar on Wednesday (27).
Environmentalist and Attorney-at-Law, Jagath Gunawardana said there are three weaknesses in the EIA system, namely legal, procedural, and institutional.
“Legal issues include the three different Acts prescribing EIA, the institutions involved in approval of EIA coming to preconceived conclusions about the project,…… based on the expertise and experience of the officer preparing the EIA, and the fact that impact assessment is segmented without considering the overall impact,” he said. Former Director General of the Central Environmental Authority (CEA), Ramani Ellepola said that it is vital to streamline the contract and project implementation process of a development project, with the EIA. “In the Uma Oya project, there were over 100 recommendations via EIA, which were not conveyed to the contractor,” she said.
Ellepola further added that EIA being handled by the regional offices is another factor that has diluted the process. Former Director of the CEA, Shirani Yasaratne said the EIA process, introduced in 1980 is not applicable to the current situation and there is an urgent need to update the procedure. “If we can change the gazetted procedure via relevant sources, this restructuring process would be more successful,” she said. Meanwhile, Gunawardana highlighted the importance of considering the overall area affected by a particular development project.
“What, how, and where to do a particular project as well as the economic and social impact of the project, is assessed via Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA). SEA is not a legalized impact assessment process yet. Therefore, there is the need to legalize SEA via a separate Act, in order to establish it as a legally accepted tool,” he said.