Improving environmental quality and making development projects environment-friendly largely depends upon documented knowledge and learning from implementation of environmental protection measures (EPMs) included in the approved environmental assessment (EA) report. The EA - a predictive tool - includes in Nepalese context the Brief Environmental Study (BES), Initial Environmental Examination (IEE), Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), and Strategic Environmental Analysis (SEAn). During the last two and half-decades, the government is involved in legally approving IEE and/or EIA reports. The EIA report is sometimes approved at political level. Many people forget EA a 'prediction-based tool' and decide on 'absolute' term. It means what is written in the EA report may or may not happen during implementation. That would be known after monitoring and auditing.
Environmental monitoring is an integral part of an EA report. At least, compliance and impact monitoring are carried out to evaluate the degree of implementation of measures (compliance) and their effectiveness (impact). In many projects, pre-construction baseline is also documented, if there is a significant gap between the collection of baseline data and implementation or construction of the project. Monitoring provides greater opportunity to avoid costly mistakes and contributes to 'change the gear'.
As financial auditing, environmental auditing is a systematic, documented, periodic and objective process for examining and assessing environmental performance. Auditing is generally carried out to assess the actual environmental impacts, accuracy of prediction, effectiveness of measures, and functioning of the monitoring works. Although there are several types of auditing, project impact auditing would serve the purpose in making development projects environment-friendly. This auditing examines environmental changes arising out of project implementation and provides messages on actual departure and/or state of resources from pre-project condition.
Monitoring and auditing can be a part of the Environment Management Plan (EMP). Impact identification, prediction and evaluation provide information on 'what would or might happen' while implementing the project and EMP provides 'what actions should be taken'.
Nepal's Environment Protection Act (EPA, 2019) and Environment Protection Rules (EPR, 2020) have provisions for monitoring and auditing. The Act has made Ministry of Forests and Environment (MoFE) or the Department (Department of Environment) responsible for monitoring and supervision, including the 'optional provision' for Provincial government and Local level. The EPR has also made the proponent responsible to conduct 'self-evaluation’ every six months and submit the report to the concerned agency or the Department. Local level may monitor and supervise the state of implementation of EPA and EPR, prepare report and make public and send to Province within 21 days after the end of each fiscal year. Province is legally made responsible to monitor and supervise of its project, prepare report (taking note of Local level report), make public and send to MoFE within 30 days of the end of each fiscal year. In case of violation of the approved EA report or environmental impacts crosses the limits or non-compliance with instruction issued to the proponent to avoid or adopt measures to mitigate adverse impacts, proponent may be punished up to NRs. 15 million.
The EPA empowers MoFE or the designated agency to update auditing report of project within six months after two years of service delivery or product distribution. This provision on timing is technically and practically difficult to enforce. The EPR provides guidance on the type auditing required.
Legal provisions provide clear messages for environmental monitoring and auditing, and it can be considered a good starting point to institutionalize these two important elements of the EA process and bring the mandated organizations within the 'legal network'. Experience informs that impact monitoring and project impact auditing provide lessons to select practical and cost-effective measures and make EA report implementable. Furthermore, compliance monitoring results would greatly help in understanding effectiveness of enhancement and mitigation measures. Monitoring results affect the auditing results.
Budget allocated for monitoring in the approved EA report indicates one-time monitoring and undermines the need for parameter-based continuous or intermittent monitoring. Alternatively, proponent is made responsible for regular monitoring as it should submit 'self-monitoring' report every six months.
Although legally required, monitoring and auditing are practiced in Nepal in few funded projects. Review of monitoring and auditing of few projects clearly indicates 'significant' departure from impacts identified or predicted. In Nepal, it is yet to institutionalize monitoring and auditing. This might be one of the reasons that approval of under quality EA reports is continued. Concerned consider that once EA report is approved, 'environment is automatically managed' and there is no need for implementing the legally approved EA reports.
Few reasons related to non-monitoring are: (i) inadequate awareness on the benefits of this globally accepted and massively used EA tool; (ii) unwillingness to understand the elements of its 'own' EA report and full dependence on 'consultants'; (iii) continued practice of’ cut-and-paste' in EA report; (iv) continued practice of 'closing eyes' and approving under quality EA report; (v) proposal for non-implementable measures or monitoring requirements in EA report; (vi) non-allocation of required or estimated budget (as contained in the approved EA report) to implement measures and conduct monitoring; (vii) low or no supervision on measures implementation; and (viii) intention of only preparing and approving EA report of the prescribed proposal due to weak or no environmental governance.
Countries committed to maintain and/or improve project-based environmental quality have greatly benefited from EA process by implementing measures, and institutionalizing monitoring. Environmental auditing provides lessons on appropriate measures based on their effectiveness and those measures can be used in similar future projects. In a nutshell, EA report preparation and approval is meaningless till measures are fully implemented, monitored, and audited. Concerned agencies may wish to enforce legal provisions on environmental monitoring and auditing that primarily provides financial and environmental benefits to the proponent, recognizes proponent for making its 'investment' long-lasting and sustainable, and avoids punishment.