Responding to the Environment Ministry’s criticism of the National Investment Board (NIB) proposal on grievance redress mechanism — aggrieved investors will be allowed to approach the NIB for redress in the event any ministry hands out an unfavourable verdict — the Finance Ministry has argued that aggrieved parties can equally approach the courts, which entails huge expenses on litigation coupled with further crippling delays in the administrative mechanism for mission-critical infrastructure projects.

Although Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan had, in a letter to the Prime Minister, criticised the NIB for allowing only aggrieved investors to use the redressal process and not citizens facing displacement — indeed, the cabinet note prepared by the Finance Ministry says: “The NIB may also consider and review representations from aggrieved applicant organisation(s) whose applications have been delayed/rejected by the Ministry/Department concerned” — Finance Ministry officials now claim the grievances need not be restricted to the investor alone, but would extend to all affected parties.

Responding to Ms. Natarajan’s specific charge of conflict of interest since the Environment Ministry’s mandate is to protect the environment, while that of the NIB is to promote investment, the Finance Ministry’s counter is that the proposition that a ministry is a custodian of public interest but the collective wisdom of Cabinet is not, is itself contrary to public interest.

“A ministry can err, but the collective wisdom of several ministers cannot be denied,” the official said.

“In any case, the NIB, while also obligated to factor in the legal position in all its decisions, including court orders and legal precedents, will, more importantly, be continuously be advised by the concerned ministry. So it is odd that it should be perceived as a model of exclusion when it is just the reverse,” he added.

On Ms. Natarajan’s allegation of undue haste in attempting to obtain her ministry’s clearance of the Cabinet Note on the NIB within a matter of hours, the Finance Ministry has invoked the Comptroller and Auditor General’s recent coal report to remind the Prime Minister’s Office that it was the delaying of the decision to hold coal auctions that led to accusations of a scam in coal block allocations.

It further pointed out that the NIB had been discussed in a meeting of the full Planning Commission, attended by all the concerned ministries and further accepted in the minutes of the Cabinet Note, which means that it forms a part of the decisions of the Cabinet.

“Firstly, the DEA’s note on the NIB was no surprise and secondly, it carried full consensus, so we can’t understand why the Environment Ministry was offended at our seeking a quick response,” the official elaborated.

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