NGT reserves order on challenge to expert committee on Lower Subansiri project

Staff Reporter
ITANAGAR, Jul 25: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday reserved its order on the issue of challenge to the composition of the expert committee constituted by the ministry of environment, forest & climate change (MOEFCC), in compliance with the judgment dated 16 October, 2017, on the Lower Subansiri project.
The committee was directed by the tribunal to examine the reports of various committees, and to submit its own report, with recommendations, to the MOEFCC.
Applicant Tularam Gogoi had raised serious concerns regarding bias on the part of all the three committee members who were selected by the ministry.
During arguments, the counsel for the applicant, Ritwick Dutta, highlighted that in such cases, the judicial test is to see whether there is reasonable likelihood of bias, and demonstrated that each of the members has in the past given their opinion either personally or through the institution they have been part of on the Lower Subansiri project.
Notably, the bench expressed its displeasure and disappointment at the “casual manner” in which the ministry had proceeded in the case. Justice SP Wangdi, while referring to the already alarming situation of flooding in Assam, commented that the ministry had not taken the ground realities of the downstream impacted communities in Assam and had made up its mind to “bulldoze” the concerns of the public regarding the safety of the dam.
The bench also commented that the way in which the ministry had proceeded “clearly showed that they were pre-decided on the project.”
This came in light of the fact that even though proceedings challenging the composition and constitution of the committee were pending before the tribunal, the ministry had gone ahead and placed the report of the committee before the expert appraisal committee, which simply accepted the report and recommended the project in April this year.
The bench, headed by Justice AK Goel, has opined that the ministry must take two more expert members on the committee “who are completely independent and not in any manner related to the project” to also look and give a fresh report in terms of the directions under the earlier judgment of 2017.
The judgment of the tribunal is now awaited.