The government has handpicked three civil servants, a judge and a lawyer for a six-member committee that will review and draft amendments to the five key laws that protect India’s environment, forest, wildlife, air and water. The “high level committee” has just two months to do this while the MoEF has given “stakeholders” a month and 1,000 characters each to send in their inputs.
The chairman of the panel is T S R Subramanian, former cabinet secretary who recently led a group of former civil servants at the Supreme Court seeking administrative reforms. A student of mathematics and economics, he will lend his administrative experience and expertise to the panel.
Of the two other IAS officers in the panel, one is Vishwanath N Anand, former MoEF secretary (1997-2000). His post-retirement tenure at the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) as vice chairman during 2002-2005 was described by the Delhi High Court as “a one-man show” in the absence of a chairman and three technical members of the authority.
Very few appeals were admitted by Anand during his three-and-a-half-year stint at NEAA. In the Lohardang Pala case, he drew sharp criticism from the Delhi High Court for “adopting a very hyper-technical approach in rejecting the petitions” and overlooking “that these petitioners deserve to be heard on merits”. The court quashed Anand’s order and reinstated the appeal.
Anand studied economics, history and psychology and attended a two-week management course at IIM-Ahmedabad in 1970. He also did a four-month course on technology transfer at Sussex in 1976.
The other IAS member is an ex-officio secretary in the panel. Bishwajit Sinha, a joint secretary at the MoEF, is from the Kerala cadre and was the personal secretary of Dayanidhi Maran in the union textile ministry before serving as additional resident commissioner at Delhi’s Kerala House. Sinha is a student of geography and has successfully completed two one-week courses on social policy and governance and urban development since 2011.
A second ex-officio secretary in the panel is from Gujarat. Hardik Shah, member-secretary of GPCB, is a Giorgio Ruffolo research fellow in the sustainability science program at Harvard. He is credited with bringing down the annual number of PILs over pollution from over 50 to a dozen since 2010 and reducing the time taken by GPCB to issue no-objection certificates to industries from 140 to 80 days. A case filed by slain RTI activist Amit Jethwa challenging his appointment as GPCB member-secretary was disposed of after Jethwa’s death by the Gujarat High Court.
The other two members of the panel bring the legal perspective. Justice A K Srivastava retired from Delhi High Court in 1999. An MA from Lucknow University, he is secretary general of the Association of Retired Judges of Supreme Court and High Courts of India. He is a regular speaker on environmental issues at Lucknow’s City Montessori School.
There is also K N Bhat, senior SC lawyer and former additional solicitor general of India, who has been in the news all through the Lokpal controversy. He represented “Ram Lalla” as senior counsel in the Ayodhya litigation in Allahabad High Court.
“You have to ask the ministry about the composition (of the committee) because I was not consulted,” T S R Subramanian told The Indian Express. “But I think the ministry was very careful in its selection as this is a contentious issue that is bound to stoke passions one way or the other. While I agree that the time limit is quite short, we don’t need to review entire laws but the relevant areas and it should be doable.”