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Government plans to set up Environment Assessment, Monitoring Authority - NEAMA

As part of its initiative to bring in larger regulatory reforms and improve environmental governance, the Government proposes to set up a National Environment Assessment and Monitoring Authority (NEAMA). The proposed authority is a revised version of the National Environment Protection Authority (NEPA). It will be set up as a statutory body under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

It would be a professional autonomous body with domain experts, technological finesse and field outreach to appraise projects for environmental clearance besides monitoring compliance and initiating enforcement action.

NEAMA is a structural response for filling gaps in critical areas such as appraisal process and environmental clearances, among others, says a discussion paper put out by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to seek comments from various stakeholders.

Thematic appraisal committees

NEAMA will have thematic appraisal committees (TACs) that would study the projects and recommend to the Ministry for grant or rejection of environmental clearance. Besides continuing to carry out appraisal of strategic projects, the Ministry will be the final authority to approve or reject the projects.

Besides advising the Central Government in development of policies and guidelines on pro-active environmental management, including clearances, NEAMA would also deal with appraisals relating to coastal zone management.

In the Indian context, the Central and State Pollution Control Boards currently handle this function.

The establishment of the Authority will result in, the apex court returning administrative power over forests to the executive. Fourteen years ago, unhappy with how states and centre were managing forests, the apex court had stepped in. Over the past few weeks, the forest bench, comprising Chief Justice SH Kapadia and Justices Aftab Alam and K S Radhakrishnan, has been rethinking its role.

Functions of the proposed Authority

The portfolio of functions, flowing out from Section 3 (2) of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986, that may be discharged by the NEAMA include:

(a) Environment Impact Assessment: This will deal with the clearances required under EIA notification, 2006 and CRZ notification, 1991.
(b) Enforcement and Compliance: This will cover areas like ambient monitoring, industrial monitoring and criminal remedial action to ensure compliance.
(c) Environmental Planning and Sustainability Studies: This area will be R&D oriented and will include studies in spatial planning, carrying capacity studies, delineation of critically polluted areas and environmental laws.
(d) Environmental Health and Eco-system Protection: This will cover areas like toxicology, water, air and soil pollution, laboratory management and natural resource management.
(e) Sustainable Production and Waste Management: This function will look at issues like municipal solid waste, plastic waste, hazardous waste and also the emerging area of environmental labelling (eco-labelling) of products and services.
(f)  Chemical Safety and Biosafety: This function would include prevention and management of chemical accidents and related information systems and would also encompass the work related to approvals presently being given by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). In this context, it is mentionable that proposal for setting up a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority, which will subsume the GEAC, is under separate consideration of the Government of India.

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