NGOs, activists allege unqualified persons are being appointed to bodies that advise government on environment and social impacts of projects
The appointments by the Union environment ministry to fill up posts in its experts' bodies are under the scanner of the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
In a judgement delivered last week, the principal bench of NGT, chaired by Justice Swatanter Kumar, issued directions to the union Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) regarding appointment of chairperson and members of the ministry's Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), the central advisory body of the ministry for approving infrastructure development projects.
The tribunal said MoEF should not appoint experts as chairperson or members of EAC or the State Expert Appraisal Committees (SEACs) unless they have expertise and experience in matters relating to the environment.
The tribunal has asked the ministry to provide revised eligibility criteria and specific requirements for persons to be appointed as chairpersons of EAC and SEACs under provisions of the EIA Notification 2006. The ministry is to submit the revised criteria and specifications within a month.
The order came in response to an application by environmental organisations, which include Kalpavriksh and Goa Foundation, and Manoj Mishra, retired chief conservator of forests of Chhattisgarh. The petitioners had raised serious concerns regarding the criteria based on which the members and the chairpersons of EAC and SEACs are appointed.
The petition was transferred to the tribunal from Delhi High Court in April, 2013.
Holistic v managerial approach
According to the applicants, MoEFCC is the nodal agency for protecting the environment and conserving the natural resources of the country and has the mandate to undertake measures for prevention and control of pollution. Therefore, members of EAC should represent various areas of expertise pertaining to the environment and should also have understanding of social impacts of projects, to contribute to a “holistic decision making process”.
However, the ministry has been appointing persons not qualified for the job, say the applicants. The determining criteria followed to make such appointments following provisions of the EIA Notification, 2006, emphasises on managerial merits rather than environmental expertise. The applicants further indicated that such managerial focus as currently practised is actually a significant departure from older EIA notifications, particularly EIA Notification 1992, which outlined a more comprehensive consideration for selection of EAC chairperson (see box).
Such appointments by the ministry will prove extremely problematic given that these experts are the main persons who evaluate various environmental and social impacts of a proposed development activity to determine whether it can be given environmental clearance (EC).
In its order, the tribunal also added a note of caution, saying that “if people who are not strictly qualified and eligible in the field of environment are selected as members of EAC/SEAC, the obvious result would be improper application of mind”. The bench further added that it “would lead to improper consideration and disposal of application for clearance filed by the project proponent”.
|Eligibility of chairperson of EAC/ SEAC under EIA notifications|
|EIA Notification 1992||EIA Notification 1994||EIA Notification 2006|
|Eligibility criteria for chairperson||Outstanding and experienced ecologist or environmentalist or technical professional in the relevant development sector having demonstrated interest in environment conservation and sustainable development.||Outstanding and experienced ecologist or environmentalist or technical professional or person with wide managerial experience in the relevant development sector.||Outstanding and experienced environmental policy expert or expert in management or public administration with wide experience in the relevant development sector*.|
|*The union environment ministry, the respondent in the case, informed that the criteria as specified in the EIA Notification of 2006 has been modified through ministry notification of October, 2007. However it should be noted that the modified provision still retains the clause “public administration or management” expert, for selecting an EAC member|
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