Thursday, June 18, 2009

Environment ministry to eject double agents

Chetan Chauhan and Rahul Karmakar, Hindustan Times

New Delhi/ Guwahati, June 17, 2009

A number of people serving on regulatory boards of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) will soon be sacked. The ministry has discovered they are also directors of companies whose projects the boards they are serving on have appraised.
“These are clear cases of conflict of interest,” Jairam Ramesh, environment minister, told Hindustan Times. “It was the duty of these people to keep the government informed.”
The most striking case is that of former power secretary P. Abraham, who has been heading the MoEF’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) on river valley and hydropower projects for the past two years. Every hydel project needs this EAC’s clearance before it can start.
According to a complaint sent to the ministry by six NGOs last week, Abraham is also on the board of at least six power companies, including Lanco Infratech, Maharashtra Power Generation Company, GVK Industries Ltd and JSW Energy Ltd.
“There have been at least six occasions when a project of companies where Abraham is a director came for clearance before the committee he chairs,” said Neeraj Vagholikar of Pune-based Kalpvriksh Environmental Action Group on telephone.
Abraham reportedly stayed away from meetings at which projects of companies he was connected with were discussed. “But that is not enough,” said Ramesh. “I agree totally with the anti-dam activists and have initiated action.”
Despite repeated efforts by Hindustan Times, Abraham could not be contacted. “I’ve also been trying to contact him for the last two days,” said Ramesh.
MoEF sources claimed other EACs, notably the one on mining and another on coal-based power plants, also have members associated with private interests.
The National Biodiversity Authority has members who formerly worked for private companies like Syngenta, which has applied for patents from this very authority. They, however, refused to reveal names.

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