Can a state minister interfere in the functioning of the Centre-appointed expert appraisal committees formed to screen all mega industrial, construction and mining projects?
Upset at not being kept in the loop, Maharashtra environment minister Ramdas Kadam has written to chief secretary Swadheen Kshatriya pointing out that he [Kadam] was being bypassed in the functioning of three committees.
With projects worth thousands of crores coming up before the appraisal committees, officials said it was obvious why the minister wanted to exert his influence.
In the letter written on Wednesday, Kadam reminded Khastriya of a 2010 state government circular that had laid down guidelines for the procedure of three committees. According to the guidelines, the state government has the power to decide the agenda of the meetings by prioritising which projects should be considered.
But the state has to make this list according to chronology and on first-come-first basis. The minister also has limited powers to suggest that certain projects be given priority, as they may be in public interest.
Confirming the development, Khastriya said, “I did receive a letter from Mr Kadam on Wednesday saying the department had not been following the 2010 circular with regards to the expert appraisal committees. I have asked the department secretary to look into the issue and report to me.”
Despite repeated attempts, Kadam was not available for comment.
As a result of the conflict between the minister and his department, two of these committees — for construction in the MMR and rest of the state — have not held any meetings in May. Usually, the committees meet twice a month to clear projects and consider at least 25 proposals.
The third committee dealing with industries and mining, however, met last month, and will continue its future meetings, said a member.
Members of the committee are worried that increasing political interference in the functioning of these committees may stall development projects
“So far, we have not faced any interference from the state. At the most, there is a request to consider certain proposals first as they are in public interest. This [letter] vitiates the atmosphere and clearly is a move to pressure us,” said a member of one of the committees.
An official from the department said, “While the CM has given up his discretionary powers to officials, the environment minister is doing exactly the opposite. In this case, it also goes against the spirit of law.”