Is the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) a gendered process in India


The concept of community management of natural resources makes sure that resources are used in the most sustainable fashion. However, any such community management becomes meaningful only if it truly represents the interest of all members of the community, irrespective of caste, gender, and other societal hierarchies.  Considering an androcentric society like India, the role or participation of females in the environmental decision making process is substantially lesser than that of their male counterparts. It is imperative to understand if the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) framework in India is inherently gendered, or is it the practice of it that generates gendered outcomes. There is a need to adopt a gender-specific approach to analyse the EIA process and practice in India and see its contribution to the existing gender divide in the Indian society.

Introduction

The environmental decision making process in India is characterized by a process called the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), governed by a notification issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEF) called the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006. A permission called ‘environmental clearance’ is mandatory for any economic activity from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and bodies authorized by it. Grant of environmental clearance is an important step under Indian environmental laws as it ensures a balance between ecological concerns, concerns of indigenous and neighbouring communities and quest for socio-economic development.

Owing to the various gender based assumptions existing in the Indian society, women’s role in the decision making process generally remains abysmally low, even though they assume multiple roles both in running the household and in running the society. Lack of economic independence of women weakens the strength of their voice and concerns whenever a public participation process takes place as part of an environmental decision making.

Since the women and girl of the house are primarily responsible for ensuring basic necessities to the family like food and drinking water, the burden on them increases manifold at times of a natural disaster when availability of food and water becomes scarce. A reference may be made to the practice of ‘water wives’ prevalent in parts of drought stricken Maharashtra. In areas facing extreme water scarcity, men are allowed to marry more than one woman, so that the collective efforts of all the wives can be used to fetch water for the family, as it becomes impossible on the part of the only wife in the house to fetch water for the entire family as water sources are scarce and located far off from the villages. The primary concern is that women are not recipients of a fair share of benefits of development, but are subjected to a disproportionate share in the social cost. It thus becomes imperative to assess the position of Indian women vis-à-vis the EIA process in India, since the primary objective of EIA is to reconcile the society-environment-development conflict and ensure that development has sustainable outcomes.

However, women are the part of the society who are left behind in the reconciliation process. In absence of any guidelines, gender issues are not addressed adequately in the EIA process, they are rather kept aside to be dealt with as part of Enterprise Social Commitments (ESC) or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) obligations.In any EIA Report, it is a standard practice to lay down the mitigation measures for effect or impact on different environmental parameters like air, water, soil, noise and social environment.Theoretically speaking, public hearing must focus only on environmental matters, but social matters are part of EIA studies for all practical purposes and thus must be raised during public hearings.Thus, a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Plan (R&R Plan), are also part of EIA studies and hence should be dealt with by a project proponent.

However, it is seen that the social aspects are, more often than not, ignored or are addressed to cover economic impact largely, like increasing employment etc. There is a need for gender impact analysis within this rubric of ‘social environment impact analysis’, which is overlooked. In a study of proceedings of 100 public hearings in the State of Gujarat, it was noted that environmental issues are only 33% of the total issues raised, while socio-economic, infrastructure, public hearing process, track record and other general issues cover 21%, 13%, 2%, 12% and 19%, respectively. Still, addressing gender related issues remain largely elusive.

This is despite the fact that at the international level, there exist some soft law instruments which highlight the need for gender analysis as a part of environmental impact assessment. For instance, the FAO in its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Guidelines for various projects undertaken under it, has recommended that every project proponent should undertake a gender assessment, to understand and appreciate different roles of women and men in order to understand what they do, what resources they have, and what their needs and priorities are) to understand how different members participate in and are affected by the project. Likewise, the Equator Principles, 2020 (a set of benchmark/yardsticks followed by financial institutions worldwide to assess environmental and social risk of a project before financing it) which provide for an illustrative list of environmental and social issues that must be addressed as a part of the Environmental and Social Assessment Documentation flag ‘gender and disproportionate gender impacts’ as an item in the list.

This article is an attempt to assess whether the EIA process in India is falling prey to the androcentric structure of the Indian society. Or is the EIA process instrumental in widening the existing gender divide in the society and hence can be termed ‘gendered’.

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