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Ex- CJI quits TERI jury over dubious environmental award to NHPC

Written By Gopal Krishna on Saturday, November 14, 2009 | 1:03 AM

In eye of green storm

FORMER Chief Justice of India (CJI) J.S. Verma has resigned as chairperson of the jury of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) Corporate Awards following the institute’s reluctance to withdraw the award given to the National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) for environmental excellence as recommended by the jury.

The jury had convened an extraordinary meeting on September 11 following complaints by civil society groups that NHPC was given the award despite shoddy work on the environment front.

In this meeting, the jury decided to withdraw the award to NHPC and a letter to this effect was also drafted. But instead of sending the letter to NHPC, the institute chose to set up another sub-committee of its own officials.

When informed about the formation of a sub-committee by TERI official R.K. Narang recently, Justice Verma was shocked. He said he was not aware of “any other authority to sit in appeal over the jury’s decision (to withdraw the award)”.

Justice Verma conveyed his decision to resign from the jury to TERI as well as to other jury members. The development took place when Verma was in the UK. Following Verma’s resignation, a few other members of the jury have also resigned. Ravi Agarwal of environmental NGO Toxics Link confirmed that he had resigned in view of the stand taken by TERI on the issue.

The public sector ‘ mini- ratna’ was given the award for its environment and social management during the 480 MW Uri hydropower project, which was commissioned in 1997.

The award was for the ‘ exemplary’ work NHPC is supposed to have done in catchment area treatment, compensatory afforestation, muck disposal, resettlement and construction of an effective fish ladder.

But an investigation by environmental action groups showed that these tasks were not completed before 1997, when the project was commissioned.

These groups then wrote to the jury asking it to withdraw the award.

In the September 11 meeting, the jury discussed the issue in detail and also listened to the technical team from TERI which had evaluated details supplied by NHPC. TERI director general Rajendra K. Pachauri, who is also a member of the jury, was present and supported the decision to withdraw the award to NHPC. The letter prepared during this meeting was not sent to NHPC. Instead, Pachauri set up another panel to review the jury’s decision.

The entire episode has left civil society activists, who had raised the issue, fuming.

“ Not only has NHPC presented a misleading picture to claim the award, it is also guilty of bringing disrepute to the jury panel and the award. Since the President of India conferred this award, NHPC is also guilty of dragging that high office into controversy,” said Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People.

Thakkar said TERI is also guilty of misleading the jury.

“ The TERI case study of NHPC put up on its website shows shoddy understanding of the timing, relevance and details of the various claims made by NHPC. The TERI staff seems to have unquestionably accepted all the claims of NHPC,” he added.

Activists have also raised the issue of conflict of interest since TERI has received over Rs 1 crore of funding from NHPC in recent years.

“ This conflict of interest is not relevant to independent jury members, but is certainly relevant in the context of the TERI staffers sitting on the jury and the TERI officials doing due diligence,” Thakkar said.

A TERI spokesperson confirmed that Verma had resigned, but did not clarify if the award to NHPC had been withdrawn or not. The award website continues to list NHPC as the winner.

By Dinesh C. Sharma in New Delhi
MAIL TODAY, November 12, 2009
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