By Ms. Nikita Pattajoshi*

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6] 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. [7]

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’.

Indicators of gender inequality in the process

To see if the EIA process is indeed leading to gendered outcomes, we need to flag certain indicators that raise gender related concerns in the EIA process. The indicators suffer from lack of objectivity, but provide a holistic picture on gender vis-s-vis EIA process and its implications.

1.) Role of women in the public hearing process

There is no dearth of literature, particularly sociological ones that underline the importance of a public hearing in the EIA process. Likewise, there is no dearth of literature that highlights the inadequacies in the existing framework that render the entire process of public hearing meaningless.[8] However, there is dearth of literature that highlights the role of women, and the extent of their participation in the public hearing. Further, any empirical research on the level of participation of women in public hearing remains restricted by data sources.

The key rationale behind conducting public hearing as a part of the EIA process is that traditional scientific establishments cannot always frame the right questions or find the right answers, when it comes to environmental impact and degradation, let the ‘general public’ who faces the impact at the ground level devise ‘indigenous’ solutions.[9] The public consultation process is the principle formal mechanism in which members of the affected community voice their concerns with regard to a proposed project.

A gender analysis of EIA theories and practice has demonstrated not only that masculine norms and values predominate, but such a masculine bias results in deeply unsustainable and unjust outcomes.[10] There is absence of an enabling atmosphere for women because of a male dominated speaking forum and patriarchal norms that create an ‘artificial’ hierarchy. This heavy gender imbalance can be attributed to a couple of reasons; firstly, level of literacy: The most strenuously expressed concern with regard to a public hearing is the inability to assess the long term impact of a project, at the stage of public hearing. The process of on-site public hearing often entails presentation of the draft EIA report by the project proponent, who then invites comments and objections from the public. Thus, the process requires one to read the report, appreciate and then comment. This means individuals possessing basic levels of literacy and technical skills can make it to the ground, whereas the level of literacy in India is lower in women as compared to men.[11] Secondly, there exists gendered societal norms adhering to which women take care of household chores and sit back at homes while men venture to the thinking and decision making arena. Further, there is no minimum threshold or quorum for number of female participants in the public hearing process, for it to be valid. Nor does the EIA Notification mandate the presence of a female representative either from the side of the project proponent or from the side of the Pollution Control Board (PCB) or the State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC). The issues pointed above, cadaverise the entire process of public hearing and deliberative democracy.

2.) Distribution of rehabilitation and resettlement benefits

Unequal distribution of benefits to men and women is not new to Indian rehabilitation practice. Delivery of benefits of displacement usually happens to the disadvantage of women, while they are made to suffer the social cost. For instance, the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project was opposed on various grounds, inter alia, the inequitable distribution of wealth it envisaged in the name of rehabilitation.[12] The resettlement plan prepared by Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal (NWDT) provided for two hectares of irrigable land to each displaced family, and an additional two hectares of land to each adult male member in the family, thereby leaving female members out of its benefits.[13] This further fortified the inequitable land holding pattern existing in India.

Likewise, every Project Affected Family (PAF) was entitled to a grant for transportation and movement from his homestead to the resettlement site.[14] However any such financial entitlement is granted in name of the male head of the family, thereby making a women dependent on the men for their movement. The way ‘family’ in case of a Project Affected Family (PAF) is defined under various Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policies exudes patrilineal flavour, as every major son is treated as a separate family, while major daughters are still considered dependants.

In stark contrast, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013 which paves way for a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) makes sure that there is equitable distribution of benefit to the affected population. The Act recognizes that widows, divorcees and women abandoned by their families impacted by land acquisitions are entitled to compensation and other benefits. The Act acknowledges that compensation must be paid to people other than men (or to female-headed households).[15]

Taking for example an EIA Report of an irrigation project in the State of Madhya Pradesh, it was seen that out of 298 households covered under the impact assessment, 93.62% of the household heads were men.[16] Taking cognizance of this wide disparity, and immense potential of, and need for women’s participation, the project proponent set aside a sum of 5 lakhs rupees to impart training to women regarding animal husbandry, gardening, farm works etc.[17] Such moves and instances deserve replication in India by other project proponents.

3.) Differential impact of migration/project induced displacement on men and women

Women suffer disproportionally from the negative impacts of large-scale development projects. Environmental changes, changes in ecological balance due to developmental activities in peripheral region, resulting displacement and relocation etc. often have impact on a woman especially during their maternity period.

Consequential to migration, women are rendered more vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse. For instance, the EIA Report of Chennai Metro Rail Corporation (November 2017), under the head of Negative Environmental Impact and Impact on Project Affected Population, documents the increasing risk to infectious diseases due to lack of sanitation facilities during construction and ‘unsafe sexual activity’.[18] However, they fail largely on two counts; firstly is the lack of recognition of higher risk to be faced by women, and second, the absence of any mitigation measure suggested in the EIA Report to hedge the risk.

4.) Availability and distribution of means of production and other resources

Literature on land ownership pattern in India depicts a very androcentric picture of land ownership. Women’s access to land they rely on, for food or shelter, is primarily through their relationship to a male relative, husband, brother or father. Such insecure land rights exposes women to discrimination at time of receiving any land-related benefit from a project proponent.

Even availability of water as a natural resource has long standing impact on the gender divide. Let’s take the example of availability and scarcity of water as a natural resource. There are reasons to believe that the water scarcity problem in itself has given rise to gendered outcomes. For the ones who believe that creates a disadvantage for the women, 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, jeopardizing the life of the women who continue to live in abject poverty and are used as an instrument to fetch water from far off sources. For a diametrically opposite view, we have literature that argues that the urban water distribution mechanism in Indian cities, acts to the disadvantage of men, particularly, single working men, who are not able to access the intermittent and unreliable water distribution.[19]

Concluding remarks and possible remedies

The indicators discussed above point towards a vicious circle wherein we see that while EIA falls prey to the gender divide in the society, it in turn leads to widening the existing gender divide too. Thus, both the questions cannot be dealt in isolation.

Therefore, the environmental decision making process must incorporate the gender dualism in the society. There needs to be a wholesome inclusion of both genders equally in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process in India. This will ensure that gender related impact of development is taken care of. A more active participation of women is required is important for a holistic and inter –sectoral approach of environmental protection. There thus needs to be in place a stronger policy framework under which women have greater access, control and ownership of natural resources like land, water, forest cover etc.

However, coming up with workable suggestions is beyond the scope of a brief article like this. Identifying the gendered nature of EIA and the need to integrate gender assessment into EIA study is not new, but lacks adequate response. To arrive at an adequate response, women’s autonomy/equality needs to be operationalised into some parameters or indicators. If those indicators are found to be in positive, then one can conclude that gender equity in EIA has been achieved. But developing such parameters or indicators is a daunting task in itself, and needs extensive research to achieve some level of external validity.

The only resort is to identify best practises across jurisdictions and attempt to emulate the policy responses. Ironically enough, few of the least developed nations of the world, namely Tanzania, Kenya, Namibia etc. are the ones leading the world in mainstreaming gender issues in their environmental decision making process.[20]For instance, the Kenyan Environmental (Impact Assessment and Audit) Regulations, 2003 mandates ‘social analysis’ as a part of their EIA process and defines ‘social analysis’ as ‘assessing the social consequences from specific policy actions or project development which includes gender desegregation.’[21] Such a requirement for gender desegregation means women’s issues are highlighted separately from men’s issues as a part of the social analysis process. Another example of gender inclusion is Namibian Department of Environmental Affairs’s ‘Guidelines for integrating HIV and gender issues into EIA’. Gender inclusiveness of EIA in South Africa takes the form of a ‘mandatory participation of women’ in the EIA process. It also mandates inclusion of women in the National Environmental Advisory Forum.[22]While the list may not stop here, what is worth discussing is that no country has a ‘stand-alone framework’ for gender inclusion, which puts in place a proper structure or roadmap for including gender claims in various stages of EIA. What we see is passing references to gender issues or soft laws on how gender issues ‘ought to be’ an integral part of the EIA process.

Talking about the Indian context, measures to achieve gender inclusiveness in the EIA process must aim at gender inclusiveness across layers. Firstly, inclusiveness in the ultimate decision making bodies (the Ministry, the Expert Appraisal Committee and other such bodies framed under the EIA Notification), inclusiveness in the Environmental Management Plan prepared by the project proponent and inclusiveness in the ‘project affected family’ (PAF) population that plays an important role in the public hearing stage. Thus, few loosely worded suggestions may be put forth:

  • Ensuring that ‘gender related issues are addressed separately/ dealt with under a separate heading in the EIA Report.
  • Ensuring that details of all participants in the public participation process is recorded and made public, with a stipulation of a quorum of 1/3rd women.
  • Mandating the presence of a gender activist in the public hearing stage, in cases where prominent gender issues are identified as a part of the scoping.
  • Taking steps to cut across the barriers of language and literacy to make sure that more and more women come forward in a consultative process.
  • Cashless/digital transfer of benefit to women directly in cases where they are the beneficiaries to ensure that women truly get the benefit they are entitled to.

The above suggestions act as a foundation based on which adequate policy responses can be devised to ensure that gender dualism is indeed incorporated in the environmental decision making process in India.


About the Author

*Ms. Nikita Pattajoshi is an Assistant Professor of Law at National Law University Odisha, Cuttack and has a keen interest in Climate Change Law and policy. As an academician, Ms Pattajoshi has judged the India Rounds of the prestigious Stetson International Environmental Law Moot Court Competition and has also published papers in the domain of environmental law in various reputed journals.


[1] Environmental Impact Assessment Notification (2006), Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change, Govt. of India <http://www.environmentwb.gov.in/pdf/EIA%20Notification,%202006.pdf&gt;

[2]Sujit Kumar Singh and Vikrant Wankhede, ‘Inclusion of gender in Environmental Impact Assessment (2018) (Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi  2018) <https://www.cseindia.org/inclusion-of-gender-in-environmental-impact-assessment-8921&gt;

[3]Ritwick Dutta and Shibani Ghosh, ‘Making our Voices  Matter: A guide to Environmental Public Hearings’

(Environics Trust and Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment  2011)

[4] Appendix III, S.No. 7 of the EIA Notification, 2006

[5] K.S. Rajan, ‘Meta-analysis of EIA Public Hearings in the state of Gujarat, India: Its Role versus the Goal of Environmental Management’ (April 2015) 33(2) Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal

[6] ‘Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) Guidelines for FAO Field Projects’ (FAO 2012) <http://www.fao.org/3/i2802e/i2802e.pdf&gt;, p. 26

[7]‘Equator Principles – 2020’ <https://equator-principles.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/The-Equator-Principles-July-2020.pdf>p. 34

[8]See, Naveen Thayyil, ‘Public Participation in Environmental Clearances in India: Prospects for Democratic Decision-Making’ (October – December 2014) 56(4)  Journal of the Indian Law Institute 463

[9] ibid, at p. 465

[10]PriyaKurian,Engendering the environment? Gender in the World Bank’s Environmental Policies (Routledge 2018)

[11]As on 2011, the female literacy rate is 65.46% while the male literacy rate is 82.16 %

[12] ‘Report of the SardarSarovar Project Relief and Rehabilitation oversight group’ (July 3, 2006) <http://nca.gov.in/forms_pdf/osg_rr.pdf&gt;

[13] ibid.

[14] Resettlement & Rehabilitation of Narmada Projects under the Aegis Of NVDA’ <http://www.nhdcindia.com/pdf/Provisions_of_Rehabilitation_Policy.pdf&gt;

[15]Explanation to Section 2(m) read with Section 27 of the Act of 2013

[16] EIA Report of project Environmental Clearance of Sajali Medium Irrigation, (October 2018) Project <http://environmentclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/FormB/EC/EIA_EMP/08102018E0QK6WFBSajaliEIAEMPReport.pdf&gt;

[17]ibid.

[18] EIA Report of Chennai Metro Rail Phase-II Priority Corridors (November 2017) <https://www.jica.go.jp/english/our_work/social_environmental/id/asia/south/india/c8h0vm0000bikdwj-att/c8h0vm0000bqniq7.pdf&gt;

[19] Anna Zimmer and Natasha Cornea, Environment Politics in Urban India: Citizenship, Knowledges and Urban Political Ecologies, (2016) 14 South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal [Online] <http://journals.openedition.org/samaj/4247&gt;

[20]Sujit Kumar Singh and Vikrant Wankhede, ‘Inclusion of gender in Environmental Impact Assessment (2018) (Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi  2018) < https://www.cseindia.org/inclusion-of-gender-in-environmental-impact-assessment-8921&gt;

[21] The Environmental (Impact Assessment And Audit) Regulations, 2003 (Kenya), Regulation 18 read with Regulation 2<https://eregulations.invest.go.ke/media/Revised%20EIA%20Regulations.pdf&gt;

[22] National Environmental Management Act, 1998 (South Africa), Section 4(2)<https://www.environment.co.za/documents/legislation/NEMA-National-Environmental-Management-Act-107-1998-G-19519.pdf&gt;

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