Matters concerned with Environment

Monday, June 22, 2009

NEAA flouts every rule in the book

Green tribunal flouts every rule in the book

(Times of India, June 21, 2009)

21 Jun 2009, 0357 hrs IST, Nitin Sethi, TNN

NEW DELHI: The murky goings-on in the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA), the only judicial body in the country allowed to hear a

grievance against

environmental clearances given to projects by the environment ministry, have emerged as replies to RTIs. Created by a special Act of Parliament, the authority has the dubious record of dismissing all but one petition that have come before it in the last 12 years.

Here is how members to the judicial body were last selected.

The five-member appellate was to have one chairperson -- a retired Supreme Court judge -- and one vice-chaiperson. But since 2005, the government has not been able to find anyone to fill these positions.

NEAA is also supposed to have three technical members. When asked in an RTI by The Access Intitiative, a group working on transparency in environment sector, how the current members were selected in 2006, the environment ministry has admitted it didn't even advertise for the position and had no fixed selection process for the appointments.

In fact, when I V Manivannan, a retired IAS officer from Tamil Nadu, sent his application, it was simply accepted by the ministry. In 2006, DMK's A Raja was the minister.

The serving DG (forests) and special secretary J C Kala recommended a retired Forest Service officer; he too was selected without any process.

Then Kala, having retired suggested his own name for vice-chairmanship and was hired as member instead.

All the three officers back in a government agency now enjoy the perks and pay of an additional secretary in the Union government.

The government has admitted on record that the "question did not arise" of setting up a selection panel for the judicial posts as these had not been advertised.

Once selected, the members till date have rejected all but one petition that they have heard. They have made just one site visit in three years. Yet, they seem to have found time -- and official funds -- to make other official trips that were unrelated with their work.

K Prasad made a trip to Varanasi to inspect the sewer treatment plant and pumping station, to Shirdi to discuss the disposal of mustard oil at Singnapur Temple and flowers from the Shirdi Temple, and to Tirupati to check out disposing off the cut off hair at the temple. None of the religious activities were though part of any case the appellate had heard and not in the work profile of members of the judicial body. In all, he made 16 trips in three years none of which was related to any case before NEAA. He has recently retired from the position and his post again lies vacant.

In the same time period, his colleague, I V Manivannan, travelled at the cost of the exchequer 11 times, each time holding "discussions" on issues unrelated to his work with officials. Each time he went to Chennai, his hometown.

The third technical member, J C Kala, participated in two sports meets while also travelling to Gulf of Munnar, and just like the other two members held "discussions" on environment on each of the seven trips he made. None of the official tours, yet again, were related to any of the cases that he and his colleagues have heard, and rejected, so far.

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