Working with Environmental Consultants: A Guide for Local Governments in India

Saturday, 09 January 2016 06:53

Environmental issues are becoming paramount with each passing day. So we should comprehend its importance in the cycle of life. Our environment is constantly changing and it may seem like society has given up on the environment with the extreme level of waste we have achieved. Hence we are facing the inflation of natural disasters, global warming, climate change and much more. 

If we discuss about the environmental issues in India, air pollution, water pollution, garbage and other forms of pollution are all challenges. Recently, BBC News India has documented a portrayal of a rubbish mountain on the fringes of India’s capital, Delhi. This Ghazipur landfill is bigger than 40 football pitches put together and it’s estimated that by 2020 it will rise higher than the iconic Taj Mahal (73 metres). These enter our groundwater, pollute the air and the land. 

This landfill reached its capacity in 2002 but no alternative was found and almost 2000 tonnes of garbage are being dumped every single day, these emit methane which often catches fire and pollutes the air. Nature is also causing some drastic effects on India. The situation was worse between 1947 through 1995. According to studies, experts say that by 2010 India has made some of the fastest progresses in addressing its environmental issues and improving its environmental quality in the world. But, still India has a long way to go to reach environmental quality.  

Management of environment is possible only through synergetic efforts of all the components of society such as governmental and non-governmental organizations, industrialists, agriculturists, voluntary social welfare organizations as well as the general public. Therefore, the environmental consultants are requisite because they have the scientific knowledge and technical expertise to conduct thorough environmental assessments. Also they provide education and training to help to decrease the impact on the environment.

Role of the Government on the issues encountered: 

The ultimate controlling authority in most of the issues related to environmental management is the government itself. Most of the forest areas are owned by the government, only they can build dams, roads, railway ports, major irrigation system, power stations, mines etc. Industrial or any other activities related to this cannot be approved without the permission of government. However, the management of environment cannot be triumphant until and unless the masses take part and interest in it. It is difficult for the government to involve the general public directly. So the environmental consultants are needed to ameliorate. 

Why should local governments hire an environmental consultant? 

Environmental review has been an important part of the planning process in preserving the environment of India for the last 40 years. When communities face the uncertainties of a large project, the process should provide a framework for investigation and should also help stakeholders to examine the project’s impact before a construction begins. Environmental review is also an important tool in helping communities to ascertain and protect the valuable natural resources. This process can be haphazard at times and project proposers and local governments could realize that writing and review documents themselves can lead to unanticipated issues or delay. In order to avoid the ‘bone of contention’, local governments are turning to consultants to provide augmentation during the environmental review process.

Since the consultants hired by local governments are extensions of government staff and representing the local government’s interests in this state of affairs, retaining the right consultant is critical. This selection process should be treated with ministration. It is necessary to recruit a consultant experienced with similar project types, review documents and methods of environmental analysis. It is equally important to work out key issues such as working hours, services and consulting responsibilities before signing a contract. 

How to determine whether a consultant is needed or not?

Hiring a environmental consultant is an adroit task. Some local governments, as an example, perhaps only need assistance with certain parts of the process. If any question raises concerns about a project, it may be a good strategy to hire a consultant to assist in the environmental review process.

A consultant can do:

  • Identify the legal requirements the project is subject to which will help avoid fines or lawsuits. If a company is involved in a court case due to environmental regulation act, the consultant can testify on their behalf.
  • Expedite communities with the project proposer, state agencies and other interested parties.
  • An environmental consultant conducts both field and desk-based research by creating a baseline for pollution and contamination and hands over completed and detailed scientific reports, written in a manner that can be understood by non-technical people.
  • They monitor the environmental impact that business and towns have on local landscapes. They check for greenhouse gases and perform carbon footprint evaluations.
  • Identify unique site features that a community might want preserved or avoided.
  • Verify the project is in compliance with state and local permits.
  • Another job performed by them is to provide education and training to businesses, individuals and governments to help them to decrease their impact on the environment.

Few steps for hiring a consultant:

  1. There are several ways to identify the right environmental consultants. Since many assessments require site visits, it is important to find a consultant located in your area. A directory of engineering consulting, some specialization in environmental services are needed as qualifications.
  2. Local governments need to prepare a RFP or request for proposal and should send it to potential candidates which include introduction, background information, scope, contract structure, insurance requirements, specific proposal content, proposal submission information, proposal selection process and criteria of the project. 
  3. After assessing the submitted proposals, the candidates should be selected on the basis of how the consultant followed the instructions or how that consultant factored public controversies over the project and the rest.
  4. Once a few consultants have been identified with sufficient qualifications to meet the needs, it is important to evaluate their project management skills by asking them some questions like, “What type of review document did you prepare and what was the size and scope of the project?”, “Was this project controversial in any way? If so, how did you deal with this?”, “Have you ever been involved in any lawsuits?” “Do you stay on schedule and within budget?” and so on related to the needs. 
  5. And finally, to sign a contract. When a consultant is getting hired, most of them already have a standard legal agreement to be signed for environmental review services. Read the contract and review any condition or assumption. Consultants include items in contract to protect themselves from ill-fated projects or from RGUs that refuse to follow their advice.

The environment is a very salient factor to consider in any given situation. It really doesn’t take much to change an environmental situation from good to bad and that transition can be averted by some planned forethought and sensible planning.