Water Development Agency chief refutes conflict of interest charge
That the project was already at the Expert Appraisal Committee’s table, before Sharad Jain took charge, does not absolve him, feel environmentalists
An open letter submitted by 14 environmentalists to the Union Environment Minister around two weeks back stated that Sharad Jain, Director General (DG) of the National Water Development Agency (NWDA), which has initiated the Ken-Betwa river linking project, is also heading the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) that must clear the project.
Responding to the letter, Jain had said that he had taken over the charge of Director General of NWDA (Additional charge) three months after the EAC – River Valley and Hydropower Projects (RVP) had considered the Ken-Betwa project.
Jain said, “As far as the issue of conflict of interest goes, no NWDA project has come up before the EAC since my appointment as director-general. When it does, I may abstain from the meeting, or from the discussion on the specific item on agenda.”
However, there has been a clear case of conflict of interest. The June 2016 EAC meeting minutes says: “EAC suggested to explore the dropping of the hydropower generation component in the Project, including infrastructure from planning of Ken-Betwa Link Project in view of likely ecological disturbances on wild life. Project proponent assured the committee to review the hydropower component.”
“But in December 2016, after Jain was given the charge of the reconstituted EAC, it cleared the Ken-Betwa project in its first meeting on December 30, 2016,” says Himanshu Thakkar, who heads the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People.
Interestingly, the June 2016 EAC meeting minutes say: “EAC suggested to explore the dropping of the hydropower generation component in the Project, including infrastructure from planning of Ken-Betwa Link Project in view of likely ecological disturbances on wild life. Project proponent assured the committee to review the hydropower component”. However, nothing was mentioned about this in December 2016 EAC meeting, adds Latha Anantha, who works with the River Research Centre.
The clearing of the project does not come as a surprise as the then Environment Minister, late Anil Madhav Dave, had informed all non-official expert members of the ministry’s appraisal committees to clear projects in three months and to be wary of NGOs.
In 2012, there had been two instances of conflict of interest in the reconstituted Forest Advisory Committee (FAC). KP Nyati and NP Todaria were both representing the interests of the industry and were members of the committee to look into the conservation of forests. Eventually KP Nyati quit the FAC.
In 2009, there was a conflict of interest case in the EAC when P. Abraham, who is on the Board of several hydropower and dam companies, chaired the EAC on River Valley and Hydropower projects. In that case, he was asked to resign from the EAC.
Dismissing the precedent cited (of removal of P Abraham as EAC (RVP) chair in 2009 for conflict of interest issue) for his removal as “incomparable”, Dr Jain said, “You can’t compare a private company with NWDA. As far as the issue of conflict of interest goes, no NWDA project has come up before the EAC since my appointment as director-general. When it does, I may abstain from the meeting, or from the discussion on the specific item on agenda.”
“In such cases, it would be best if the person resigned from the EAC. The appointed person shouldn’t be a part of any government agency or from the NGO sector. He should be a retired expert,” adds Anantha.
“I’m not sure if there’s a law on such appointments, but it is a universally accepted practice that two organisations will not appoint persons with a conflict of interest,” says Thakkar.
Looking at the larger problem, Anantha says that what we should be looking at is to minimise political interference. “Whoever is appointed to the post will face a lot of pressure from politicians and bureaucrats to approve the projects. We must look at changing the system fundamentally. Political interference is the issue which must be tackled,” adds Anantha.
National Herald’s efforts to reach out to Sharad Jain through his office proved futile.