Proposed NIB would be illegal, she says

Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jayanthi Natarajan has expressed “very serious concern” at the setting up of a National Investment Board to fast-track clearances of major infrastructure projects, saying the “concept is unacceptable,” documents exclusively obtained by The Hindu reveal.

In a five-page letter sent to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on October 9, Ms. Natarajan said the proposal would upturn established procedures of government business, place corporate interests over those of citizens and violate environmental protection mandates imposed by the Supreme Court.

The Hindu had first reported earlier this month that the Department of Economic Affairs-proposed NIB — an empowered standing committee of the Cabinet that will be chaired by the Prime Minister and will include key offices like that of the Finance Minister and the Law and Justice Minister — would hear appeals from companies whose projects had been stalled on environmental grounds, and fast-track clearances.

Pro-corporate body

Ms. Natarajan’s letter says that while the proposal to set up the NIB gives corporations with projects worth “1,000 crore or more a route for fast-track appeal, it does not contemplate giving a hearing to citizens, stakeholders, or NGOs, who may be aggrieved by the impact of the project.”

Her letter points out that the NIB’s powers will, therefore, “be used for the benefit ONLY of large investors, but not ordinary people, local citizens and stakeholders dedicated to preserving environmental integrity.”

Ms. Natarajan notes that there is a conflict of interest between investment promotion and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, which exists “to protect the integrity of the environment, to ensure that our forests and wildlife, and by extension, forest dwellers are protected.”

“Often,” the letter argues, “hard decisions have to be taken to balance the imperatives of the development with the crucial need to …

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