|‘Environment panel lacking in locus standi ’|
GUWAHATI, Nov 25 – A high-level committee constituted by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and headed by the former Cabinet Secretary of India, TSR Subramanium with the alleged intent of diluting the existing environment, forest and wildlife laws, has been ‘found to be lacking in’ any locus standi. The committee was constituted allegedly in a hurried manner to review all the environmental, forests and wildlife laws and the notifications and judgements of the courts and tribunals related to these laws.
It submitted its report on November 18, 2014. The report is yet to be made available in the public domain.
The committee had former Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Viswanath Anand, former Judge of Delhi High Court AK Srivastava and former Additional Solicitor General of India, K N Bhat as its members.
The reply of the MoEFCC to an RTI petition filed by the New Delhi-based EIA Resource and Response Center (ERC) revealed that the committee was not constituted under any Act or Rules of Parliament, said the ERC in a statement.
Instead of obtaining mandatory approval of the Prime Minister for forming the committee, it was constituted with the approval of the MoEFCC.
Moreover, eligibility of its members to work in the areas of environmental, forest and wildlife laws was not examined before nominating them to the committee.
As per the June 14, 2011 circular of the MoEF, approval of the Prime Minister, through the Cabinet Secretary, is obligatory for constituting or altering the composition of the committee if it is to be designated as a high-level committee.
The circular also pointed out that the MoEFCC can approve the composition of ‘important committees’, other than the high-level committees. Thus, it is clear that the Union Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change has no power to constitute high-level committees.
As per the above MoEF circular, it is clear that the above high-level committee, which was entrusted with the job to review environmental, forest and wildlife laws does not have the required administrative authority to review the environmental laws, said the ERC.
“This only reflects the casual manner in which this committee has been constituted,” said environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta. Review of environmental law is a serious task and requires both expertise as well as effective public consultation, he observed.
RTI-cum-environment activist Rohit Choudhury, who is also involved in the process of unearthing the real status of the committee, has described it as an unconstitutional entity designed only to legalise the illegalities committed in according permission to the NE hydel projects.