A month after he admonished scientists for delaying approvals to development projects, Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave has ordered an overhaul of their portfolios.
On February 10, Dave re-jigged the work allocation of 16 non-official expert members of the Ministry’s appraisal committees in Environment and Climate Change departments.
According to an official, this is the largest one-time overhaul. Some experts, an official said, had been sitting on project approvals for “more than six months and needed a stern warning”.
The most transfers — four — were done in the Impact Assessment Division which conducts environmental assessment of power, construction, mining, industrial and infrastructure projects.
On January 5, Dave held an “interaction and lunch” with 40 experts where he had asked them to clear projects fast and not to hold back development. He later told The Indian Express that he did not want scientists to sit on projects for years by seeking further studies before approving a project.
In November 2015, his predecessor Prakash Javadekar had directed these experts to seek all relevant information relating to the approval of a project “at one go” with the rider that “seeking piecemeal information during appraisal of the project should be avoided”.
Four officials were also transferred out of Hazardous Substances Management Division which lays down procedures and safeguards for accident prevention, preparedness, mitigation and management of e-waste, hazardous waste, solid waste, plastic waste, bio-medical waste and fly ash utilisation.
The transfers follow the shunting of three senior-level advisors out of the ministry to regional offices early this month. Usually, scientists are promoted to advisors and kept in the ministry.
Sources say the next reshuffle could involve juggling of Indian Forest Service officers of the rank of Deputy Inspector General and above.
The Ministry also has plans to appoint an outside consultant to draft and implement a “360-degree evaluation” of the performance of its scientists to assess their suitability for promotion. The ministry feels that the R&D output of the scientists is low.
Scientists are involved in the appraisal/monitoring of environment impact, pollution and hazardous substances, forest conservation, research in environment and climate change, besides providing inputs for Parliament questions and court cases.
In its first two years, the Narendra Modi government cleared over 2,000 projects involving investment worth Rs 10 lakh crore. In May 2016, Javadekar had said that the average waiting period for project approval had been brought down to 190 days from 600 days during the UPA regime and the aim was to reduce it further to 100 days.