Tuticorin fallout: Pollution Control Board Chairman's transfer questioned

Written by CJP | Published on: August 27, 2018
It has been more than three months since 13 people were killed in police firing in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, during demonstrations against the Vedanta Sterlite copper smelting plant located there. However, improvements in the area seem to be only inching along. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) recently "indicated that there are still tonnes of materials stored inside the Sterlite copper unit in Thoothukudi that would pose an environmental danger and fire risk," The New Indian Express reported. The CPCB has submitted a report with recommendations to the National Green Tribunal (NGT). Meanwhile, the Madurai Bench of the Madhras High Court has ordered Thoothukudi’s Collector to consider a plea regarding cleaning up industrial waste that Sterlite dumped in Upper stream in Kumaragiri village in the Tuticorin district. The Court has also ordered a CBI investigation into May's police firing.

Sterlite

On August 23, Mohammed Nasimuddin, IAS, Principal Secretary to Government, Environment and Forests Department, and chairperson of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) was transferred to the Energy Department, The News Minute reported. He was replaced by Shambhu Kallolikar, IAS, who is the former Principal Secretary/Managing Director of the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board. 22 'eminent citizens', including journalists, academics, social activists and retired judges, have written a letter to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and Chief Secretary protesting Nasimuddin’s transfer while the investigation into Sterlite is ongoing. 

The letter states, "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." It says that his transfer is also "legally fraught," noting the Supreme Court’s September 2017 judgment, in which it ordered states to formulate "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."

Following the police firing in Thoothukudi, the TNPCB directed that the Sterlite copper plant be shuttered over non-compliance of specific conditions that were previously issued, prompting the Vedanta subsidiary to file a plea with the NGT challenging the TNPCB’s order. 

The letter emphasises, "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," and calls for Nasimuddin to remain as head of the TNPCB, "at least until the NGT ordered enquiry is over."

The News Minute said that among the signatories to the letter are retired Madras High Court Justice Hariparanthaman, former Tamil Nadu Additional Chief Secretary Christodas Gandhi, Madras High Court advocate Geetha Ramaseshan, and senior journalist Pamela Philipose. 


The complete letter has been reproduced below:

To: 
Hon'ble Chief Minister
Government of Tamil Nadu
Chennai 600 009
Email:[email protected]
 
 
Chief Secretary
Government of Tamil Nadu
Chennai 600 009
Email: [email protected]
 
Respected Sir and Madam:
 
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 transfer is not merely ill-timed, but legally fraught. Coming down heavily on the ad hoc appointment of IAS officials as TNPCB Chairpersons in violation of various environmental statutes, the Hon'ble Supreme Court has in its judgement dated 22.09.2017 in Civil Appeal No. 1359/2017 directed all states to frame "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." The deadline has passed without Tamil Nadu taking any steps to frame guidelines for appointment of chairperson to SPCB.
 
In the meantime, it has sought to replace one ad hoc appointee with another in violation of well settled positions of law. 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.
 
We urge you to reconsider your decision, and ensure that Mr. Nasimuddin continues as Chairperson, TNPCB, even after assuming his new role as Secretary, Energy Department, at least until the NGT ordered enquiry is over.
 
Sincerely,