Green Min Takes U-Turn on Environment Authority Panel [%new%]
News credit (Times of India)- (Unedited) M RAJSHEKHAR NEW DELHI
Tasked by the Supreme Court with creating a new and independent environment authority, the Ministry of Environment & Forests wants to retain its say in choosing the panel of experts to vet projects, a Cabinet note on the matter shows. This is a change from its earlier position, where the ministry said it would relinquish its powers in such appointments to avoid conflict of interest, and defeats the objective of having a truly independent regulator, says asenior government official, who has seen the note, on the condition of anonymity. This is a crucial clause in the blueprint for the proposed environment regulator that the environment ministry is supposed to submit to the Supreme Court by April 1. The blueprint has been sent to members of the Cabinet, after which it will return to the ministry, which will then file it in the SC. This, says the official, is expected to happen in a day or two.
The Expert Appraisal Committees (EACs) assess environment clearance applications, and recommend approval or rejection to the ministry. An email questionnaire sent to environment minister Veerappa Moily on whether the ministry controlling appointments of external experts on EACs compromised the independence of the new authority — a facet the SC emphasised on in its January 6 order — remained unanswered at the time of going to press.
“Mischief in the environmental clearance process has been due to the EACs. Unless you have impeccable people in these committees, the environmental clearance process will continue to be a sham,” says the official quoted above. “But if the ministry continues to appoint members to the EACs, they will continue to recommend whatever the government wants.”
Ministry officials had proposed a new architecture where the environment ministry would have no say in the appointments of the environment authority’s chairperson, members and the EACs. In the Cabinet note, the ministry has changed its position on EAC selection.
Both environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta and consultant Vinayak Chatterjee feel the issue is not just about who — the ministry or the regulator — selects EAC members. “The regulator choosing its own team could also be problematic,” says Dutta. “It, too, could behave in an unaccountable manner.”