The conflict of interest issue has pushed the environment ministry to consider provisions to debar the ministry officials from joining National Green Tribunal (NGT), mandated under law to review clearances given to projects by the ministry.
Several NGOs had objected to the appointment of senior ministry officials, who had participated in the process to approve projects, in the tribunal.
“It is a clear case of conflict of interest as the officials have to review the clearances in NGT to which they may have been a party in the ministry,” said a NGO, in its representation to the ministry.
Two former ministry officials — Vijai Sharma, former environment secretary, and Devendra Pandey, official retired from the ministry’s environment clearance — have been appointed in the NGT.
They have been party to clearance of certain projects which has now been challenged in the NGT. The NGOs have raised their conflict of interest issue even in the NGT. There have been instances where former ministry officials had to recluse from hearing a particular case because of their role in approving the project when they were in the ministry.
“It is a genuine concern,” said a senior ministry functionary. “We will soon prescribe certain cooling period for ministry officials before they can apply in the NG,” he added.
The new regulations are likely to be applicable for new appointments to be made in the NGT.
The government is in the process of filling up vacant posts in the Delhi office of the tribunal and for appointing members of tribunal’s three benches in Bhopal, Kolkata, Pune and Chennai.
The government has appointed a selection committee headed by Supreme Court judge Swantantra Kumar to select the new members. Over 200 applications have been received, including several officials, who are on the verge of retirement or have recently retired.
The Department of Personnel and Training has been considering a cooling off period of three years for retired government officials to join private sector. However, there is no such condition for joining a government organisation.
There have been instances of appointment of former telecom secretaries as head of TRAI immediately after retirement raising eye brows.
But the environment ministry wants to avoid such controversies and would be prescribing a cooling off period for its ministry officials.