HC notice to environment Ministry on appraisal panel

The Karnataka High Court on Thursday ordered issue of notice to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on a PIL petition challenging selection of five individuals to the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects.

A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice S. Vishwajith Shetty passed the order on the petition filed by United Conservation Movement Charitable Welfare Trust, Bengaluru, challenging the July 13, 2020 notification of constituting the EAC for river valley and hydroelectric projects.

The petitioner has contended that K. Gopakumar of the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, who has been appointed as Chairperson of the committee has no statutorily prescribed qualification in the field of environment. Also, three other members – B.K. Panigraphi of IIT Delhi, Udaya Kumar R.V of Malaviya National Institute of Technology, Jaipur in Rajasthan, and Chandrahas Deshpande of Walingkar Institute of Management Development and Research, Mumbai, have no requisite qualification in environment though they are experts in their domain, the petitioner has contended.

Another member

On appointment of another member, Balraj Joshi, former Chairman of the public sector undertaking National Hydro Power Corporation, the petitioner has contended that his appointment would result in conflict of interest as he is a proponent of hydroelectric project rather than environment.

‘Frame guidelines’

The petitioner has also sought a direction to the Ministry to frame guidelines for selection to EAC at the Central level, and the State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities, and the State Expert Appraisal Committees while pointing out that at present the Ministry is selecting individuals without any minimum safeguards without laying down any procedure.

The Ministry will have to devise guidelines, including issuing public notice through advertisements inviting applications from eligible persons as per qualifications prescribed in the Environment Impact Assessment notification of 2006 and to set up a panel to select chairperson and members to the EAC.

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