Committees vs committees

Can rubber stamps serve public interests?

Published: Friday 15 February 2002

Our penchant for setting up yet-another committee never seems to end. But when all they do is endorse the position of the government, with little thought of public interest, what purpose do they serve, one often wonders. Take the Ranganath Mishra committee on plastic waste management or the R A Mashelkar committee on auto fuel policy. Both are key committees with an agenda of prime public importance and headed by eminent people. Yet all they have done is ended by taking soft and government-industry positions.

The panel headed by R A Mashelkar, director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (csir), was set up to outline the country's roadmap for vehicle emission norms. It pushed through a weak document that only brought cheers to diesel bus operators and oil and auto industry. High on the committee's list was public health. But concern for public health was difficult to find in its recommendations.

Similarly, the 13-member Ranganath Mishra committee was established in July 2001 in the face of a mounting solid waste disposal problem. A comprehensive plastic waste management policy was on its agenda and the aim was to devise a strategy to rein in the plastic menace by legislating for product liability and manufacturers' responsibilities. The meetings of the committee clearly suggest that the powerful plastic industry is setting the agenda once again.

The pattern is common. These committees set up in public interest, have little or no independent voices. For instance, both these committees had no representative from the civil society or the environmental community. It is almost as if the effort is to block the environmental concern and not to work with it. Then even though the committee is born out of an environmental and public health imperative, the committee makes sure that public debates are kept out of its ambit. At the end of it all, sadly, but predictably, all these "expert" committees end up is becoming rubber stamps to government wont-do.

Why then do we need this charade? Next time a committee is proposed, we suggest for some more efficient action. The report of regurgitated and known positions could be released on the very same day the committee is formed. It will save some taxpayers money and a lot of annoyance from the environmental community.

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