Inclusion of an Adani Group’s adviser on the Environment Ministry’s appraisal committee for Hydro-projects prima facie deliberate, involving a serious impropriety- Demand for an independent investigation
Shri Rajiv Gauba
Dear Shri Gauba,
The Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MEFCC) recently included Shri Janardhan Chaudhary, Advisor-Pumped Storage Projects (PSP) & Hydro of Adani Green Energy Ltd., as a member of the “reconstituted” Environment Appraisal Committee (EAC) for statutory appraisal of hydroelectric projects At the very first meeting of that EAC [EC/AGENDA/EAC/756541/10/2023] held on the 17th and the 18th of October, 2023 (readily accessible at MEFCC’s website), the EAC considered Adani Green’s Tarali pumped storage scheme located in Satara district of Maharashtra. Shri Chaudhary took part in the proceedings of that meeting and the EAC accorded its clearance for finalising the Terms of Reference (TOR) for appraising the project.
I have a copy of the said proceedings downloaded from the MEFCC website which showed that Shri Chaudhary took part in the EAC proceedings.
Ironically, neither the EAC nor Shri Chaudhary thought it appropriate that he ought to recuse himself from the proceedings in view of the clear conflict of interest that existed in the specific case of the Tirali project.
On the face of it, it looked as though the said EAC was “reconstituted” merely to provide direct representation for the Adani Green Energy company, which has heavy stakes in the clearance of pumped storage projects. This is evident from the following tabulated list of pumped storage projects in the hands of Adani Green Energy which will come up for clearance before the above-cited EAC.
|Malshej Ghat Bhorande||1500|
|Approximate cost||Rs 60,000- Rs 85,000 Crores|
The above list may not be exhaustive, as there are several other locations where private companies including Adani Green are considering setting up pumped storage projects in view of the large concessions offered by the Centre and the States. Many such projects are awarded to chosen promoters on a nomination basis without competition, making them highly remunerative for the promoters and excessively expensive for the State power utilities and electricity consumers.
The government is considering “viability gap funding” (a euphemism for outright industrial subsidy) to impart dubious viability to private pumped storage projects and allow the promoters to profiteer at the cost of the public exchequer (https://www.livemint.com/economy/viability-support-for-pump-storage-projects-on-cards-11699201772630.html)
In the specific case of the Tarali project, the TOR for which was cleared by the EAC in October this year, it is located within the eco-sensitive zone notified by the MEFCC for the Western Ghats (https://moef.gov.in/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Directions-dated-13-Nov-2013-EPA.pdf). No doubt, the MEFCC notification permits hydro projects to be exempt from the ban imposed by that notification but the fact remains that the construction activity including the construction of the upper reservoir of the projects impacts the local ecology. The Tarali site is within 1.5 Km away from the boundary of Sahyadri Tiger Reserve and about 3.2 Km from Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary. Tirali river itself drains into the Krishna River and the draining of water from it has riparian implications.
There are some pumped storage locations awarded to the Adani Group in Andhra Pradesh that attract the provisions of protective laws such as the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act [PESA] and Forest Rights Act [FRA] which mandate prior consent from the local Gram Sabhas before a decision can be taken to set up projects at those locations. In many cases, the State has violated those provisions. Setting up such large projects in tribal areas requires the Centre and the States to hold prior consultation with the National Commission for the Scheduled Tribes (NCST) which is a Constitutional authority. No such consultation has been held so far.
In short, the whole process of clearance of private projects is being abridged to suit the interests of private promoters of projects, not to safeguard the public interest. The MEFCC itself has amended the Forest (Conservation) Act bypassing the requirement under Article 338(9) [prior consultation with the NCST]
Apparently, anticipating that the above-cited eight pumped storage projects taken up by Adani Green Energy need to be cleared by the EAC without any hitch, those that matter in the MEFCC and those that matter elsewhere in the government have taken the extraordinary step to provide direct, explicit representation to the company’s official in the EAC’s proceedings. Perhaps, this is the first instance in India of statutory regulation being implicitly outsourced to a corporate entity, an instance that certainly suggests impropriety and mala fides.
As it is, the MEFCC which is directly subordinate to the political executive, is discharging the statutory responsibility of clearing projects under the Environment (Protection) Act, which is prima facie unacceptable. Compounding this is the latest decision to include a corporate entity’s representative as a member of the EAC, which undoubtedly vitiates the sanctity of the clearance process further. Whoever has done this has thus committed an outright contempt to the Environment Protection Act, apparently with a highly dubious intent.
I would demand that the whole matter be subject to an investigation by an independent agency as otherwise the statutory approvals accorded by the MEFCC under the Environment Protection Act would amount to “rubber-stamping” projects. It will make a mockery of the statutory process itself.
I am circulating this letter widely for the public to discuss and debate the issue, as it has far-reaching public interest implications.
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to the Government of India