Nepal underscores the importance of people's participation in the EA process. The proponent must publish a 15-day public notice in the national newspaper before the submission of the Scoping Document of each project requiring an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to address the concerns and issues of the stakeholders and affected people in time. After the preparation of the draft EIA report, the proponent must conduct a public hearing at the project site, and submit the recommendation letter from VDC(s) or municipality(ies) where the project will be implemented. Furthermore, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment must publish a 30-day public notice before the approval of the EIA report of any sector and any project to provide the stakeholders with additional opportunities to raise their concerns, and provide views and suggestions on the final EIA report. These legal requirements provide multiple avenues to the affected people to voice their concerns, know the nature, magnitude, extent and duration of impacts people will be likely to face, and also know adverse impacts of mitigation measures, and get involved in project construction and implementation.
Based on current practice, the proponent prepares and shares an information note during the scoping exercise, and impacts – beneficial and adverse, reversible and irreversible, and direct and indirect – on physical and chemical, biological, socio-economic and cultural environment, including mitigation measures and monitoring requirements during public hearing.During consultations and public hearing such as of a hydroelectric project, people raise concerns on compensation, employment, rural electrification, bridge or road construction, and support to school, health and drinking water facilities.
Proponents have benefited from public consultation, particularly in: (i) providing information about the projects activities and environmental impacts that affect local people and resources; (ii) knowing the concerns and issues of the local people in advance and take timely actions; and (iii) informing stakeholders and requesting institutions for timely decision on aspects that affect the project implementation. Similarly, local people and stakeholders have the benefit of: (i) knowing their land and property to be affected by the project activities, and demanding for compensation and employment; (ii) appealing to least damage the natural resources; (iii) selecting priority activities that need project support; and (iv) offering concerns, opinions and suggestions to the proponent timely. In a nutshell, public consultation process has developed a sense of ownership, and has enhanced responsibility to make the project environment-friendly and sustainable by both project developers and stakeholders.
Proponents have also faced problems in consultations. Local people and stakeholders demand for non-project related supports or for activities not related with the project. The project may require skilled manpower while local people might demand employment as their right, and conflict might arise between proponents and interest or affected groups.
Some proponents are still not prepared to disclose necessary information and consider public consultation as a process of collecting the people’s 'wish' list. Experience shows that public consultation can be made productive by: (i) identifying stakeholders, particularly the people directly affected by the project, and considering them as 'partners in development'; (ii) informing stakeholders in advance with user-friendly information; (iii) ensuring adequate presence of project affected people in consultations; (iv) providing adequate time to 'voiceless', vulnerable, seriously project affected families and women to raise their concerns; and (v) documenting their issues, concerns and suggestions and telling them frankly which will be addressed by the project. Public consultation has been a 'vehicle' for raising concerns and getting additional support from projects.
In a nutshell, Nepal's legal provisions on public consultation have enhanced the understanding on the environmental aspects. In many projects, they have raised expectations that all local problems should be solved by the project. Projects might suffer during the implementation of the EIA report due to higher expectations. Experience shows that many reports are prepared by consultants with low or non-engagement of proponents, who don't even see what is in these reports. Impacts are generic and non-site specific and mitigation measures are also inappropriate and theoretical. Study teams might have the commitment during the public hearing or data collection to provide all facilities to the local people. There are additional issues related to 'right-holder', use-right or ownership right on public property, and payment for environmental services which need legal treatment. It is equally important to define and clarify benefit sharing amongst the proponents, affected people or local bodies and the Government in projects using public resources.
People's project related issues and project induced-impacts must be addressed properly. A single project might not fulfil the 'rising expectations' of the locals and 'interest groups' in an economically poor, but ecologically rich Nepal. EA is a legal document and the proponent should be penalised in case of non-compliance. Compliance will provide information on what worked and what did not which will be a guidance to benefit from the EA tool in the future. In a nutshell, EA is a proven tool to make the project environmentally sound, sustainable and locally adaptable and it ensures benefits to the affected people.