Days after a massive rejig in the bureaucracy in the state, a citizens group from Tamil Nadu have sought the retention of the former Chairman of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board over the Sterlite probe.
On August 23, Mohammed Nasimuddin, IAS, Principal Secretary to Government, Environment and Forests Department and Chairman(FAC), Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board was transferred to the Energy Department. Shambhu Kallolikar, IAS and former Principal Secretary/ Managing Director of the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board was posted in his stead in both appointments.
In a letter to the Chief Secretary, 22 ‘eminent citizens’— including retired judges, bureaucrats, journalists, academics, political and social activists— state, “The transfer of Mr. Nasimuddin, IAS, from his role as Chairperson, TNPCB, is ill-timed and sends the wrong signals to the public about the sincerity of the Government in keeping Vedanta Sterlite shut. Mr. Nasimuddin enjoys public confidence, and is perceived to be a person of integrity and intelligence. He has been involved and informed about Sterlite's operations in Thoothukudi. His continued presence as TNPCB Chairperson would be invaluable given the imminence of the NGT-appointed enquiry Committee less than two weeks from now.”
The signatories to the letter include retired Madras High Court Justice Hariparanthaman, retired Haryana Chief Secretary MG Devasahayam, former TN Additional Chief Secretary Christodas Gandhi, Madras High Court Advocate Geetha Ramaseshan, senior journalist Pamela Philipose and Maja Daruwala of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, among others.
The TNPCB ordered the closure of the Sterlite copper smelter in Thoothukudi on May 28 for non compliance of certain conditions imposed in the previous renewal of consent order issued to the unit. Following this, the Vedanta-owned firm approached the National Green Tribunal against the TNPCB, protesting the closure.
The citizens groups also points out that the transfer is ‘legally fraught’ quoting an August 2017 judgement of the Supreme Court, the letter states, ""appropriate guidelines or recruitment rules within six months, considering the institutional requirements of the SPCBs, and the law laid down by the statute, by this Court and as per the reports of various committees and authorities so as to ensure that suitable Professionals and Experts are appointed to the SPCBs."
They also point out that the deadline had passed without Tamil Nadu taking any steps to frame guidelines for appointment of chairperson to the TNPCB.
The Tamil Nadu government has been criticised for its handing of the Sterlite issue. 13 civilians were gunned down on May 22, during the anti-Sterlite protests. Activists had slammed the TNPCB over closure order of the plant, stating that it was not strong enough to face legal scrutiny.
Urging the Chief Secretary to reconsider his decision, the letter states, "No public interest will be served by transferring a well-informed officer on the eve of a critical enquiry relating to the fate of Vedanta's Sterlite Copper smelter. It would be an understatement to say that the discord, anger and sense of betrayal in Thoothukudi if Sterlite were allowed to reopen will not be possible to contain."