During the course of their meetings across the country, the TSR Subramanian headed high-level committee (HLC) – constituted to submit a report on recommending amendments to key environmental laws – copped a lot of flak for not engaging enough with environmental and citizen groups. Now it has come to light that neither the HLC nor the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEF&CC) maintained any minutes of the meetings they held within themselves or for those held with government officials, citizen groups and industry bodies. The information came in response to a Right to Information (RTI) application with the union ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEF&CC). The application filed by Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) had sought information on the total number of meetings held by the HLC, their locations and minutes of the meetings.
In their response, the ministry has enlisted a total of 30 meetings held by the HLC. Of the 30 meetings, only seven were held with ‘civil society, non-governmental organizations (NGO) and prominent citizens’ across Delhi, Bangalore, Mangalore, Bhubaneswar and Patna. Details show that in many of the meetings meant for civil society and NGO’s, representatives of trade bodies and industry were attendees. In addition, the information shows that the HLC did not hold any meetings in key states such as Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, West Bengal and entirely skipped the environmentally sensitive north-eastern region entire.
Ritwick Dutta, co-founder, LIFE, termed the HLC’s consultations as a cosmetic exercise. “The HLC report does not reflect any sentiments of the stakeholders and on issues of livelihood. If the HLC’s report says that the “committee covered a gamut of issues with detailed consultations”, why were no minutes maintained.”
Speaking to dna, former cabinet secretary and chair of the HLC TSR Subramanian said, “The details of the committee’s meetings were maintained by the ministry. We met a cross-section of people in the limited amount of time and heard their views, it was not a dialogue.” Another HLC member K.N.Bhat, former additional solicitor general of India refused to comment on the issue.
Meanwhile, ministry officials in the know of things said that the HLC’s meetings with government officials and citizens were only to understand their viewpoint on various environmental laws and there was no need for maintaining any minutes as representations and submissions have been collected in documentary form. Activists had panned the ministry as they were provided only 1,000 words to submit suggestions to HLC on its website. The HLC had also faced criticism for selective invitations for consultative meetings, many of which were attended more by industry representatives.
Presently, the HLC’s report and its key 55 recommendations are being reviewed by the parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, environment and forests, chaired by Congress leader Ashwani Kumar. Last week, nine NGO’s put forth their reservations regarding the HLC report in the standing committee’s meeting. Following these meetings and after consultations with state governments, the union government is expected to table amendments to environmental laws in the upcoming Budget session of Parliament.