In a surprising move, the environment ministry has appointed Dipesh Mehta, a criminal lawyer whose clients include actor Salman Khan, as an independent member of the country’s top coastal zone authority that clears projects around India’s vast 7,517-km coastline.
“The Central government has decided to appoint Dipesh Mehta, advocate, as a member of the authority with effect from date of publication of this notification,” said a ministry’s order dated July 30.
He is the only independent member in the 15-member National Coastal Zone Management Authority (NCZMA), which normally has nominees from different ministries and scientific bodies related to marine ecology.
All other members of the authority, constituted in April 2015, were representatives of the Central ministry, state government and public-funded scientific bodies working in the area of marine ecology. In the past, the UPA government had nominated an office-bearer of fishermen associations as an independent member.
The nomination of Mehta, apparently does not seem to have any prior experience in coastal management, has raised eyebrows.
“Even in the court of law I have not seen any public interest litigation filed by him (Dipesh Mehta) on environmental issues,” said Debi Goenka, an environmentalist, who has filed several petitions to protect the green cover in and around Mumbai.
Other environmental activists described Mehta as a reputed criminal lawyer who had appeared for Khan in the 2002 hit-and-run case. He was replaced by Shrikant Shivade towards the end of the case hearing.
Mehta did not respond to calls on his mobile phone and text messages. A message left in his office failed to evoke any response. Environment minister Prakash Javadekar’s office also did not respond to an email query on Mehta’s credentials.