NAGPUR: The union ministry of environment and forests’ (MoEF) decision to appoint a former coal secretary as chairperson of expert appraisal committee (EAC) for river valley and hydroelectric projects has come in for sharp criticism from environmentalists.

On September 5, MoEF issued orders appointing Alok Perti, former coal secretary, as chairperson of the EAC, which appraises all major irrigation projects, dams, hydropower projects and river valley projects for environment clearances at two stages – terms of reference (TOR) and final.

“It is shocking to see that Perti, who has absolutely no environment credentials, has been made chairperson,” said Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRAP).

Thakkar added Perti is known to have an anti-environment outlook, and has accused the environment ministry of being a roadblock in coal mining. Thakkar believes Perti’s selection as chairperson of EAC goes against basic environmental sense.

“The reconstituted EAC on river valley & hydropower projects is completely unacceptable,” said Parineeta Dandekar, co-convener of SANDRAP.

She said it is equally disturbing to see that the committee has no woman representation, no sociologist, and no one from non-government organizations (NGOs). All 10 members are either from the government and its organizations or government-funded academic organizations.

“This means that none of them would be in a position to take a stand independent of the government stand. The committee also has no river expert, climate change or water expert or disaster management expert, all of which are crucially important issues for a committee like this that decides the fate of India’s rivers, even more so after the Uttarakhand disaster,” says Ritwick Dutta of EIA Resource and Response Centre (ERC).

As for the other members of the committee, Thakkar said PK Chaudhuri also has nothing to do with rivers, water or environment. HS Kingra, who was involved in Commonwealth Games Organization, and was also chairman of National Scheduled Castes Finance and Development Corporation, has done no work related to rivers or environment.

Perti, who has been senior functionary, including secretary of currently controversial coal ministry from October 2009 till earlier this year, clearly has no background of environment or rivers. The first meeting of the EAC is slated to be slated for September 23-24, 2013. Greens have demanded to cancel the meeting.

As coal secretary, Perti had accused MoEF of stalling growth by not giving clearances to coal mining projects automatically. “By appointing Perti as chairman of EAC, it seems MoEF itself is not serious about protecting environment or forests, which is supposed to be its mandate,” said Thakkar.

BB Barman, director for River Valley Projects, refused to comment, saying he was not authorized to speak to the media. Emails asking how the appointments were made were sent to union environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan, environment secretary V Rajagopalan and Perti himself. However, three days later, there have been no replies.