November 17, 2021 8:03:39 pm
The recent appointment of Shanth Avverahalli Thimmaiah as the chairman of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) by the state government has run into controversy just like the previous appointments for the position in the last few years.
Thimmaiah replaced Brijesh Kumar, principal secretary (ecology and environment), who was also handling the KSPCB, on November 15.
Several environmentalists have raised the issue of conflict of interest as the new appointee, till recently, was the managing director of Metamorphosis Project Consultants Private Limited, the company preparing detailed project reports for government projects and issuing environmental clearances, consent for establishment and operation of sewage treatment plants (STPs). The said company has also taken on mining projects.
A senior KSPCB official said, “The chairman of the board is authorised to clear the approvals. Moreover, he has to represent the board in courts. Most of the decisions with regards to the guidelines during festivals and so on are to be taken by him. Unfortunately, in the past few years, there have been appointments which were mired in controversy. There are certain decisions that need to be taken against builders and politicians, so the post requires the appointment of a person who understands the ramifications of ecologically disastrous projects.”
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Notably, in 2020, Vijaykumar Gogi, who was serving as the principal secretary (ecology and environment), had to take the charge of the chairman of the board following a row over the appointment of M Sudhindra Rao. The government had appointed Rao on December 30, 2019 and within four months he had to step down from the post.
The state government in the Karnataka High Court had contended that the appointment was done without framing the rules of the appointment.
Recently, Rao claimed in a television interview that the relatives of former chief minister BS Yediyurappa had demanded Rs 16 crore from him in lieu of his appointment as the KSPCB chairman. Rao alleged that his resignation letter was forged and accepted in haste by the chief minister’s office.
The Karnataka High Court dismissed Rao’s contention that the resignation was not according to the provisions of the Water Act. Later Rao, approached the Supreme Court, but the apex court refused to entertain the plea.
Even the appointment of K Sudhakar (present health minister) in 2019 as the chairman of the KSPCB had raised eyebrows. Sudhakar had replaced former IFS C Jayaram for the post.
During Siddaramaiah’s tenure as the chief minister, a private builder, Lakshman, was appointed as the chairman of the board in 2015. In 2017, while still holding office, his properties were raided by the Income Tax authorities after huge discrepancies were found in his I-T return.
Kolar-based environmentalist R Anjaneya Reddy, who was one of the petitioners against the appointment of Rao and Sudhakar, commented that the appointment of the chairman of the board should be as per the guidelines set by the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal.
The Karnataka High Court in February 2021 noted that the person holding the post of the chairman of the board should either have an experience in areas relating to environmental protection or should be part of a government department or institute dealing with environmental issues.
The Supreme Court in Techi Tagi Tata vs Rajendra Singh Bhandari case of 2017 issued clear instructions to all state governments to frame rules and guidelines to select chairpersons of pollution control boards within six months.
The guidelines specified by the Union Minister of Environment state that the chairman of the board should possess a bachelor’s degree in engineering related to a specialization in environment discipline and another requirement is that the person should have 15 years of practical experience in environment protection.
The NGT clearly stipulated that once a person fulfilling the eligibility criteria is appointed as chairman and member secretary in a state board, then that person has to continue for full tenure and the same cannot be curtailed by removal unless there are some charges of misconduct or cogent reasons to be placed on record.
The apex court had also stated that pollution control boards are autonomous bodies which should not be controlled by political heads.
Co-founder of Friends of Lakes (NGO) Ram Prasad said, “Has the government not found a single experienced scientist who could have headed the coveted position? The state government has time and again embarrassed itself with the controversial appointments. Time will tell if the appointment stands the legal scrutiny. Eminent people from the scientific community meeting the required experience had also applied for the post.”
When contacted, Thimmaiah refused to comment on the issue.
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