Undeterred by Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan’s scathing opposition to the setting up of a National Investment Board (NIB) to expedite clearances for major infrastructure projects, the Finance Ministry has written to the PMO detailing why Ms. Natarajan’s fears about the proposed board’s structure and powers are misplaced.

A senior Finance Ministry official told The Hindu that the Environment Ministry’s claims that the NIB would take away its powers to approve projects or overturn its decisions were completely misplaced.

The Finance Ministry argues that the NIB is a Cabinet sub-committee, no different to many existing Cabinet Committees like the ones on Economic Affairs (CCEA), Infrastructure, Security or Investment.

“The Constitution of India has placed executive authority of the state through the President in the Council of Ministers (CoM), who, in turn, delegate authority to the Cabinet, which will, likewise, delegate authority to the NIB for administrative convenience,” the official explained.

“Individual Ministries hold only delegated power. No Ministry has original jurisdiction since neither the Constitution nor the law of the land bestows this authority. For a Ministry to question the authority of the Cabinet over its own authority is contradictory to and violative of the Constitutional authority of the country,” he added.

The Finance Ministry believes the charge that the NIB would be superseding the powers of the Environment Ministry without any of its domain knowledge, is unfounded.

“The Cabinet note states that the NIB will, in consultation with the concerned ministry — which in this case is Environment — determine different timelines for different types of approvals for the three categories of orange, yellow and green industries, with further differentiation based on level of investments. The power of the Environment Ministry will only devolve to the NIB if it defaults on mutually negotiated deadlines,” the official says.

This implies that any Ministry can accept or reject applications for various approvals using its domain knowledge without any interference from the NIB as long as these decisions are settled within pre-set deadlines, making government decision-making predictable, while removing the ability of any individual or organisation to use discretionary powers to inordinately delay decisions.

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