Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has cleared the appointment of Union Environment Secretary Dr V Rajagopalan as chairman of the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) even though his predecessor M Veerappa Moily had flagged conflict of interest in the selection process, whereby Rajagopalan virtually oversaw his own appointment.
A 1978-batch IAS officer of Uttar Pradesh cadre, Dr Rajagopalan belongs to Tamil Nadu and is due to retire on August 31. The NBA is based in Chennai and its chairman’s post is of the rank of secretary to the Government of India.
Having initially approved Dr Rajagopalan’s selection as the next NBA chairman on May 5, Moily had called the file back. His detailed file noting (which has been accessed by The Indian Express) dated May 15 raised four key objections:
As per DoPT rules, the search-and-selection committee should have recommended a panel of names for selection to the government. Instead, it recommended, without citing any reason, only Dr Rajagopalan’s name for the job. Seven out of 38 applicants were interviewed by the selection panel.
As per the provisions of the Biodiversity Act 2002, the post of the NBA chairman should be occupied by a person of eminence who is an expert in the field and merely being a retired bureaucrat may not fit the bill. For the record, Dr Rajagopalan is an MTech from IIT Madras and a PhD on air pollution modelling from Lucknow University.
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Certain changes were made in the eligibility criteria to favour retired government officials. The advertisement seeking applications for the post of NBA chairman issued on October 4, 2013, demanded “30 years of experience in dealing with issues of science and social sciences, with at least 5 years of experience of working in the central/ state government at senior level including heading government institutions”. The ministry’s 2011 advertisement for the same post asked for 20-25 years of experience.
Although then environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan had wanted a panel of names for the chairman of the search-and-selection committee, Dr Rajagopalan later suggested Dr K Kasturirangan’s name to Moily and got it approved. “However, at that time, I was not aware that the Secretary himself will be one of the applicants,” wrote Moily on the file. “Therefore, completion of the selection process with the Secretary at the helm of the affairs has created a situation of conflict of interest. I feel the whole issue should be reviewed and a fresh process for appointment maybe initiated.”
Both Javadekar and Dr Rajagopalan did not respond to emails and phone calls.
Following Javadekar’s approval, Dr Rajagopalan’s selection as NBA chairman is now awaiting the nod of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, now comprising the Prime Minister and Home Minister.
Last October, the ministry had raised eyebrows by seeking applications for the NBA chairman’s post 10 months before the incumbent was to demit office. However, Dr Balakrishna Pisupati, the only expert on genetics (plant biotechnology) to have ever been appointed as NBA chairman, resigned in February. Sources claim Dr Pisupati was under pressure to step down before his three-year tenure ended this August. Hem Pande, additional secretary, MoEF, is holding temporary charge as NBA chairman till August 11.
The selection committee shortlisted seven out of 38 applicants on April 1 and interviewed them on April 29. “While all major decisions were on hold due to the model code of conduct during the Lok Sabha polls, these meetings were conducted with exceptional urgency,” recalled a senior MoEF official who refused to be named.
The NBA is an autonomous body formed in 2003 under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, to regulate and advise the government on matters of conservation, sustainable use of biological resources and fair, equitable sharing of benefits.