A day after environment minister Jairam Ramesh said environmental regulators on boards of companies would be removed from such panels, several NGOs urged the government to look into violation of rules while giving environmental clearances.
“In India, the rejection rate of projects violating environment laws is less than 1 per cent. In developed nations the rate is 8 to 10 per cent,” said Ritwik Dutta, a Supreme Court lawyer specialising in environment laws.
HT had on Wednesday reported that former Union power secretary in the late 1990s, P Abraham, who heads the Ministry of Environment and Forest’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) on river valley and hydropower projects, was on the boards of six companies whose projects were cleared by the committee.
Abraham, 68, had abstained from meetings when the proposals of these companies were discussed. In four instances, he left the meetings before the proposals of these companies were to be discussed.
Several attempts to contact Abraham, a 1962 batch Maharashtra cadre IAS officer, failed. He did not respond to calls on his mobile and SMS messages seeking his response on Tuesday and Wednesday to the ‘conflict of interests” allegation against him.
Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on Dams and People, however, said Abraham’s case reflected how India’s environmental clearance process gets distorted.
“There are several former bureaucrats in EACs promoting the cause of companies in their role as officials in different ministries. Having them on these committees dilutes the need for an independent environmental review of the projects,” he said.
Ramesh had on Tuesday said that an NGO’s petition against Abraham had raised a question mark on the efficacy of environment laws and the government would ensure “total transparency” in the environmental clearance process.