Delhi High Court issues notice to Environment Ministry to justify its ‘Experts’
The Delhi High Court on 27.04.2010 sought the response of the Ministry of Environment and Forests on the procedure of appointment of Chairpersons and Members of the Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC) under the EIA Notification 2006. The EACs are responsible for appraising projects which apply for Environmental Clearances and giving recommendations to the Ministry of Environment and Forests on whether the projects should be approved or rejected. Despite playing an advisory role, the EACs are extremely crucial in the EIA process as the Ministry only rarely disagrees with the EACs’ opinion.
A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed by two well know non-governmental organisations -Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group and Goa Foundation, and an active civil society member -Mr. Manoj Misra- a TAI South Asia member, through the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE). The PIL challenged the Ministry’s practice of appointing people who do not have any expertise on environment to become members of, and even head, various expert committees. The petition cited the example of Mr. Rakesh Nath, presently the Chairperson of the EAC on River Valley Projects, who has served as the Chairperson of the Central Electricity Authority and Bhakra Beas Management Board and is presently a technical member of the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity. He has also been associated with groups such as ICOLD which is essentially a pro dam group. Similarly, Mr. V.P. Raja, Chairperson of the EAC on Thermal Power Projects, is also the present Chairperson of the Maharashtra State Electricity Commission. Prior to his current appointment, he has served as a Joint Secretary, Additional Secretary and Principle Adviser in the Department of Atomic Energy. Mr. Rakesh Nath and Mr. V.P. Raja have no qualification or expertise on environmental issues but they are heading two expert committees.
The petition also raises the issue of dilution of the qualifications of members of the EAC wherein environmentalists and ecologists have been replaced with experts in management and public administration. Similarly, representatives from NGOs, ecologists and environmentalists have been removed from the category of those people who can be appointed as experts and replaced with sector specialists, economists and EIA consultants
The issue of appointment of persons with conflict of interest in EAC has been in the news. Soon after becoming Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh ensured that the term of one EAC chairperson (P. Abraham) was cut short since it was brought to his notice that Mr. P. Abraham was serving on the board of power companies. Similarly, the Delhi High Court came down heavily on the appointment of Mr. M.L. Majumdar as the Chairperson of the EAC on Mining while he was on the board of mining companies. Civil society groups were taken by surprise when, despite all the protest against such appointments, the Ministry appointed two people with no experience in environment as EAC chairpersons. It is feared that honest appraisal of projects will become very difficult in Committees headed by persons with a background in implementation of power projects and no environmental experience.
The petition was heard by Chief Justice Misra and Justice Sanjeev Khanna of the High Court of Delhi.