Streamlining the environmental assessment process

The idea is to strike a balance between expediency and eco-friendly conditions

Environment: To improve the environment assessment process, the environmental impact assessment (EIA) will be categorised and the terms of reference (ToR) simplified.

This was deliberated during a dialogue on assessment of projects for environmental clearance (EC) between the National Environment Commission (NEC) and the six eastern dzongkhags, yesterday.

The EIA would be categorised into high, medium and low risk, based on the project and issues surrounding it.

The NEC secretary,  (Dr) Ugyen Tshewang, said that one of the biggest challenges the commission faced arose when dzongkhags sought quick EC approval on grounds that budgets would be reverted.

“We’ve seen cases where tenders were awarded and resources mobilised before the EC was issued,” he said. “We have to work according to law and, since ECs take time, dzongkhags should submit applications on time.”

Trashiyangtse dzongda, Sangay Duba, said budgets for projects are uncertain and, when the budget is eventually approved, the dzongkhag needs to immediately take up the groundwork to ensure projects start on time and the budget is not reverted.

“In case of activities falling along protected areas, EIA takes months to complete because of the extensive procedures involved,” he said. “Also, the ToR has too many requirements, which practically isn’t possible to be taken up by local consultants.”

Currently, it takes about three months to issue environmental clearances for projects that entail EIA provided all documents are updated and submitted.

For projects, like farm road construction, the dzongkhag takes about two to three weeks to issue clearances.  Now, with the delegation of more activities to the dzongkhag, the time frame is expected to reduce by almost 50 percent.

The NEC secretary said that, while the decision to hire consultants depended on the dzongkhag, the EIA report should be up to the standard and complete.

For instance, if a road is to be constructed through a protected area, he said studies should be carried out on the habitats of animals, flora and fauna available in the area.  Even the river systems have to be studied.

To shorten the time taken for issue of ECs, a participant recommended that officials of NEC and the dzongkhags work together from the start.

“If it’s something to do with budget, the finance officers from both parties should work together. Similar practice should be followed in terms of planning or any other aspect of the project,” he said.

Inconsistent and incomplete report submitted to NEC, delay in submission of renewal applications and remitting penalties and applications being forwarded without dzongkhag administrative approvals were other issues discussed.

Trashiyangtse’s dzongkhag environment officer said they are the only ones to look after assessments and monitoring activities while Trashigang dzongda, Lungten Dorji said that incomplete reports showed the capacity of the environment office in the dzongkhags.

“Only one person is looking after a lot of activities and there is a need to strengthen the office in dzongkhags,” he said.

The dialogue also concluded that the Dzongkhag Environment Committee required training and capacity building on environment assessment.

Chief environment officer, Tenzin Khorlo, said the NEC was holding dialogues with the dzongkhags to understand issues pertaining to environmental assessments.

“We want to streamline the whole process and improve services without compromising on the environmental issues,” he said.

By Tshering Wangdi, Trashigang

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