The State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) under chairmanship of Saroj Siwatch seems to have framed its own rules and is virtually working as a court, calling business representatives for hearing before clearing their business projects worth crores.
Though, nowhere is it mentioned in the notification that it could invite project proponents for hearing or presentations.
Siwatch is the daughter of former Congress chief minister of Haryana Bansi Lal and is a retired IAS officer. Siwatch’s two-year tenure is ending on March 22.
The SEIAA gives environmental clearance to projects before the start of construction work. The body is answerable to the state government.
But before it, the State Environment Assessment Committee (SEAC) comprising technical experts goes through the project and has the right to call representatives of business houses for presentation before giving their recommendations. But in Haryana, the representatives of business houses are again called for hearing when SEIAA discusses their case.
The HT team found that on March 9 and also on February 18, businessmen, architects, consultants lined up outside the room of Siwatch. A day is fixed when cases are discussed and representatives of firms are called.
“First we have to appear before SEAC and then before SEIAA. The SEIAA has no right to call us. We are harassed over the procedure. It doesn’t happen in other states,” said a businessman under condition of anonymity.
The ministry of environment and forests had issued a clarification, dated March 8, 2010, on the same issue where it said, “there is no need normally for separate presentations to be made before the SEAC and SEIAA.”
The notification dated September 14, 2006, by which SEIAA was set up, clearly mentioned that the regulatory authority shall normally accept the recommendations of the SEAC and in cases where it disagrees it shall request reconsideration while stating the reasons of disagreement.
When contacted, Siwatch refused to comment on the issue.
Another member of SEIAA SK Khanna also remained evasive when asked why business proponents are being called for hearing. He said, “The chairman calls the meeting. She sets the agenda. I live outside (in Gurgaon).”
Member secretary, SEIAA, Sanjiv Verma, who is an IAS officer, said that only chairperson could speak about the procedures and he was not authorised to make any statement.
Chairman of SEAC, IJ Juneja said, “We are experts. If we have decided, then what is left. But they (SEIAA) are holding sessions like a court which shouldn’t be happeneing. Nobody likes it. It causes delays. Presentations, importantly, are only to be given to us.”
He described the relation between SEIAA and SEAC as that between a president and cabinet and said normally SEIAA should agree with the SEAC.
Principal secretary, environment, Anurag Rastogi, said, “If someone is called and complains that he is being harassed then we can take action. If there is no complaint what we can do.”