GISdevelopment.net --> Application --> Environment

Environmental planning as a tool for environmental protection - The need and the possibilities

N. Raghu Babu
Environmental Engineer, Central Pollution Control Board, Parivesh Bhawan,
East Arjun Nagar, Delhi - 110 032


Introduction
In the process of development, the issues confronting today are achieving desired development for economic or social reasons on one hand and safe guarding the environment and maintaining good quality living conditions on the other. While taking up developmental activities, the assimilative capacities of the environmental components i.e., air, water and land to various pollution are rarely considered. Also, lack of proper land use control is resulting in poor land use compatibility. The developmental activities being haphazard and uncontrolled are leading to over use, congestion, incompatible landuse and poor living conditions. The problems of environmental pollution are becoming complex and are creating high risk environment.

Conventionally, the environmental pollution problems are solved by introducing environmental management techniques such as control of pollution at source, providing of sewage treatment facilities etc. However, environmental risks are not being controlled completely by such solutions. The environmental aspects are to be induced into each of the developmental activities at the planning stage itself and are to be well co-ordinated and balanced. Presently, the environmental aspects are not usually considered while preparing master plans or regional plans and the process is skewed towards developmental needs. For all developmental activities, a crucial input is land and depending on the activity a specific landuse is decided. The environmentally related landuse such as trade and industry, housing construction, mining etc. are likely to have some impact on the environment. These land uses need proper planning and integration as some of the activites have interdependencies auch as industry with tranpsort, housing etc.

The spatial planning tools can help in sustainable development. In India, presently spatial planning approach is mostly limited to urban areas only and the regions are not normally considered for planning purposes and for attaining balanced development. The present paper details the need for usage of environmental planning as a tool for environmental protection and the priority actions needed to be taken.

Environmental Planning - The Need

Lack of spatial planning:
The country today lacks integrated spatial planning (national/state/regional/town level). The planning is mostly limited to urban areas and even in these areas the master plans do not taken into consideration the environmetnal aspects and the developmental needs are not well reflected. Also, the master plans are several times are violated. Lack of planning is leading to unbalanced development thereby forming uneconomical agglomerations, ecologically degraded areas and over exploitation of resources. The developmental activities tend to be haphazard and uncontrolled thus leading to over use, congestion, poor land use compatibility etc.

The planning solutions for achieving balanced and sustainable development had been demonstrated to a good extent in some of the countries. Some of the major constraints for introducing integrated spatial planning in India are:
  • In view of the existing social and living conditions, economic interests may tend to over-ride the environmental aspects;
  • Ecosystem are already over-used in some areas;
  • Introduction of spatial planning which involves highly complex nature of planning activities is a daunting task particularly in a large country, like India;
  • Lack of legal framework for spatial planning, dearth of financial resources, inadequate environmental awareness, shortage of manpower and limitations in technical competence are among the constraints in integration of environmental concerns in the development process.
However, spatial planning based on assessment of existing environmental profiles as well as potential assimilative capacity could help environmentally acceptable development and resolve the conflicts which are otherwise confronted with. Planning of activities based on assessment of local or regional environmental impacts could be a useful approach for introducing the concept of spatial planning in a limited manner under Indian conditions.

Absence of environmental considerations in planning:
Presently, the environmental aspects are not usually considered while preparing master plans and the process is skewed towards developmental needs. For all developmental activities, a crucial input is land and depending on the activity a specific landuse is decided. The environmentally relevant land uses are trade and commerce, housing construction, transport facilities (road, rail and water), utilities (water - surface and ground etc.), refuse/hazardous waste disposal facilities, wastewater installations, quarrying and mining, power generation, forestry, recreation and tourism etc. These land uses are likely to have impact on the environment. There is a need for assessment of the land in terms of not only the economic aspects but also the environmental aspects and the land uses are accordingly to be allocated so that the natural environment and ecological balance is not disturbed.

Inadequacy of conventional control techniques:
The environmental problems of concern and increased environmental risks are due to air pollution from vehicular, industrial and domestic sources, noise pollution, water pollution - lack of proper storm water drainage and sewerage system, improper and inadequate garbage collection and disposal system, haphazard siting of industries/processes, transportation, storage and handling of toxic or hazardous chemicals, lack of adequate open spaces and green areas; etc. Conventionally, the environmental pollution problems are solved by introducing environmental management techniques such as control of pollution at source, providing of sewage treatment facilities etc. These measures are proving to be inadequate because of the complexity associated with the dynamics of development.

Inadequacy of conventional control techniques:
The environmental problems of concern and increased environmental risks are due to air pollution from vehicular, industrial and domestic sources, noise pollution, water pollution - lack of proper storm water drainage and sewerage system, improper and inadequate garbage collection and disposal system, haphazard siting of industries/processes, transportation, storage and handling of toxic or hazardous chemicals, lack of adequate open spaces and green areas; etc. Conventionally, the environmental pollution problems are solved by introducing environmental management techniques such as control of pollution at source, providing of sewage treatment facilities etc. These measures are proving to be inadequate because of the complexity associated with the dynamics of development.

Increasing public awareness:
There is an increase in public awareness on pollution and its affects. The people today are demanding good quality of life and living conditions. The increasing public interest litigation (PILs) for relocating environmentally incompatible land uses is an indication that there will be an increased need for proper planning of land uses and siting of industries and other development projects.

Growing environmental costs:
It has been proved even with in our country that though the economic considerations tend to bring in gains in a short term, the liabilities from neglecting the environmental aspects are heavier in long run. The costs involved for cleaning up river Ganga or for introduction of unleaded petrol or for shifting industries from Delhi are just a few examples. This necessiates proper planning in advance so as to be prepared for the subsequent consequences.

Constraints in the existing industrial siting procedures:
  • The targets for industrial development are fixed but the sites for these industries to come up are rarely pre-determined thereby paving the way for haphazard siting of industries.
  • The responsibility of selecting a site is primarily entrusted with the entrepreneurs and this does not necessarily lead to objective assessment of environmental aspects.
  • The information base available for evaluating environmental impacts and taking decisions on industrial siting is weak. Hence, it causes subjectivity in decision- making process as well as lack of transparency and delay.
  • The environmental clearance by the regulatory authorities does not necessarily imply zero pollution from an industry.
Hence, the major challenge is not just finding a site for an industry or a developmental activity but is finding a solution for achieving sustainable development. It is being increasingly realised that the developmental activities are to be planned in such a way that the socio-economic objectives are fulfilled without causing adverse impacts on the environment.

The Possibilities

The possibilities for a suitable solution for the Indian conditions include introduction of integrated spatial planning as a long term solution. In the context of spatial planning, the planning models of other countries having similar conditions/constraints with respect to population, resources etc. can be taken as an example for working out suitable solutions for Indian conditions. For example, the German planning system in based on 'co-operation' among various levels - federal, state, regional, local etc. and 'balancing' among different sectors - industry, agriculture, forestry, environment etc. The prior interaction with the lower level makes the guidelines more acceptable and the plans more implementable on ground. At the same time, this helps achieve co-ordinated and balanced development.

For the situations in our country, sectoral land use plans for all the environmentally relevant activites such as those given below should be prepared keeping in view the developmental needs/targtes and the environmental considerations and then these are to be integrated into one plan that is binding on all:
  • trade and industry locations;
  • housing construction;
  • transport facilities (road, rail, water)
  • utilities;
  • refuse/haz. waste and wastewater installations;
  • quarrying/mining;
  • power generation;
  • agriculture;
  • forestry;
  • inland and coastal fisheries;
  • recreation and tourism;
  • water regulation and development;
  • tapping of groundwater; and
  • outfalls into surfacewater.
This helps individual sectoral authorities to meet their development targets while ensuring that these targets are achieved in an environmentally compatible manner.



Environmental Planning Initiatives by CPCB

Environmental planning is a relatively new tool for environmental protection in India. Historically, the Central and the State Pollution Control Boards were entrusted with environmental protection with emphasis on control and abatement of industrial pollution.

The prevailing situation of industrial siting and incompatible surrounding land uses demands adoption of more reliable and long-lasting solutions. The need for environmental planning was understood by CPCB and the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF), Govt. of India. Consequently, certain pilot studies were taken up at Central as well as State level. Experience with this type of studies, in particular in the Union Territory of Pondicherry (1988) and for Hassan District in Karnataka (1991-1993), stimulated CPCB and SPCBs to start a programme on developing necessary capacities for environmental planning within the environmental administration.

The provisions for this strategic development are founded in the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, which authorises the Central Government "to take all such measures as it seems necessary for the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing, controlling and abating environmental pollution" [Section 3(1)]. Measures under this clause may include "planning and execution of a nation-wide programme for the prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution" [Section 3(2)], (ii)). This task of environmental management includes also spatial (geographical) aspects as explicitly mentioned under Section 3 (2) (v) "restriction of areas in which any industries, operation or processes shall not be carried out or shall be carried out subject to certain safeguards."




The work in the first phase of the programme started in early 1995 with the conduct of pilot studies on preparation of Zoning Atlas for Siting of Industries based on environmental considerations in selected 19 Districts of 14 States. Based on the response received, the programme had been expanded and intensified under the World bank funded Environmental Mangement Capacity Building Project. The goal for the programme has been formulated as follows:

"Technical, instrumental and institutional capacities needed for producing spatial environmental assessments for planning purposes are established or strengthened in order to produce the targeted studies whose results could be used to effectively promote the environmentally compatible spatial planning in India"


This formulation reflects the thrust of the programme which not only includes capacity building and strengthening but in particular the use of the capacities built-up in the environmental administration of India to promote environmentally compatible spatial planning.

The purpose of the programme has been formulated as follows:

"To strengthen and increasingly utilise competence, instruments and the institutional basis for environmentally compatible, sustainable management of land and land based natural resources, in order to harmonise spatial development and environment in India "

The activites under the programme have been intiated at national and State levels for preparing information base on environment and at the District level for zoning the areas for sititn of industries, at microlevel (1:50,000) for identification of sites for industrial estates and at the city level for preparation of enviroentnal mangement plans for improvement of environmental quality.

The programme is being well received and it is hoped that the initiatives of CPCB will go a long way in helping developmental objectives in an environmentally sound manner.

GISdevelopment.net. All rights reserved.