Panel to review environmental laws violated terms of reference, was not transparent while inviting experts for consultation

pandyaBy Mahesh Pandya*

This is in response to the comments, views, and suggestions invited by the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology and Environment and Forests s from individuals, experts, non-government organizations and other stakeholders on the Report of the High Level Committee (HCL) headed by TSR Subramanian to review various Acts administered by Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF & CC).  The response was forwarded to the Parliamentary Standing Committee, which is headed by Ashwani Kumar, member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, which is reviewing the Report of the HCL.

Paryavaran Mitra is a Gujarat-based voluntary organization working in the field of environment protection and highlighting issues related with industrial pollution since 1997.  We have been involved in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), monitoring and participation in Environmental Public Hearings (EPHs) across the state.

Following are our comments/suggestions on the Report of the HCL:

Violation of Terms of Reference (ToR) and failure to act according to it:  

The HCL was formed to review various Acts administrated by MoEF &, CC vide Office Memorandum No 22-15/2014-IA III, dated August 29, 2014. The MoEF & CC, Government of India, gave ToR  to the HLC. But in the report, the HLC gave us different hint.

As per ToR, point No (ii), the HLC has to “To examine and take into account various court orders and judicial pronouncements relating to these Acts.” But in the report, there is no mention of any such thing. In fact, no such review is present in the report.

On the other hand, the HLC report suggests the need for enactment of a new law, to called the Environment Loss Management Act (ELMA), which is outside of purview of the HLC. Further, suggesting new structures – National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and State Environment Management Authority (SEMA) – is also not mentioned in the ToR of the HLC.

Usage of the term “time limit” as per convenience:

The HCL report’s paragraph 4.3 says, “During the various meetings many participants pointed out, correctly, that two months given to the Committee are not adequate for thorough examination, revamping and redesigning of the various Acts and rules. The Committee agrees with these views.”  This is just an example. In fact, the report mentions about inadequacy of time given to the HLC more than once. Yet, surprisingly, the HLC submitted the report ahead of the deadline. It did this despite the fact that the time limit given to the HLC was extended for one month, from October 29, 2014 to November 28, 2014.  Yet, surprisingly, the HLC said that it got less time to review all the mandates given to it.

Lack of public participation:

We wrote a letter to the HLC on September 10, 2014 about the need for effective public participation during its consultations. We even suggested about the need to organize regional consultations, requesting for widely spreading information about them through media.

Here, it is possible to give the example of how the Paryavaran Mitra came to know about its proposed consultation in Gandhinagar. We came to know about the HLC’s possible visit to Gandhinagar. We were told that the committee would visit Mumbai and Gandhinagar from October 20, to 30. 2014. We sent an email saying that we would like to meet the HLC during its visit to Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad. Yet, we did not get any information from the HLC about its visit to the twin cities. Although in the HLC report (Table No 3) says that it visited Ahmedabad and held discussions with government and interested groups, we were not intimated.

Lack of transparency:

It is true that information about the formation of the HLC and the visits of its committee members were provided on the website of MoEF & CC, but this was grossly inadequate. The information on the website did not mention time and place of the public meeting. One can scan through the information published on the website about the visits of the HLC. It merely mentioned the date of the visit and  said, “Interested individuals and representatives of organizations/ institutions desirous to meet the committee to hand over a memoranda or directed interaction with the committee may kindly send the request to the following email address: hlc.moef2014@gmail.com.” Whether it was Bangalore, Bhubaneshwar or Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar, the information was the same.

It gives the impression that HLC members wanted limited participation. Hence, they choose to invite emails from interested individuals/ organization representatives, instead of publishing adequate information about its visits on the website. Lack of transparency in the working of HLC forced us to believe that the formation of the HLC was merely a formality to just to elicit the stamp of approval to a previously fixed policy.

This is the main reason for our demand to reject the HLC report. We want the need to initiate the process afresh with concrete ToR. The ToR should follow all the necessary procedures for public consultation. The Paryavaran Mitra representative would be more than willing to present before committee, if called.

*Director,Paryvaran Mitra. Based on letter Pandya wrote to MK Khan, joint secretary, Rajya Sabha Secretariat, New Delhi on December 26, 2014

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