Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh is facing opposition over the proposed National Environment Protection Authority (NEPA) from an unexpected quarter — bureaucrats of his own ministry.
The authority is envisaged to take over environment and forest clearance work from the ministry in addition to enforcing different environmental laws.
Ramesh wanted the authority to be given full autonomy in environment clearance processes whereas the bureaucrats are weary of the idea.
"NEPA would be a government body. Therefore, the government should have powers to direct the authority as and when it desires," a ministry official explained.
Ramesh was of the view that NEPA should be an independent body so that it is not accused of being unfair, as it would be monitor even government projects. The draft law prepared by his office had clearly stipulated that the NEPA should be fully autonomous in its functioning.
The draft is, however, struck because the bureaucrats want insertion of a clause, which will jeopardises the autonomy to a large extent. If the suggestion of bureaucrats is accepted it would mean that the government will have powers to overrule the authority’s decision.
"Bureaucrats will continue to managing environmental laws rather than experts," a government functionary said.
In the existing system, Indian Administrative Services and Indian Forest Service officials manage the Expert Appraisal Committee, which gives environment clearance and Forest Advisory Committee, which gives clearance for projects in forest areas.
Ramesh had intended to change the system by having environmental experts in NEPA to evaluate the projects for environment and forest clearances before taking a final decision.