New Delhi: A selection committee at the cabinet secretariat has rejected all 17 candidates shortlisted by the environment ministry for the post of chairperson of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), India’s apex pollution controlling authority. The post of a full-time CPCB chairperson has been lying vacant for over three years. Last month, the ministry shortlisted 17 names and sent the list to the cabinet secretariat.
“The committee, which also includes environment secretary Ashok Lavasa, however, rejected the names. The committee felt that none of the candidates were suitable for the job,” said a senior official with environment ministry, who did not want to be identified.
The 17 candidates included scientists in the environment ministry, as well as civil servants from the Indian Forest Service (IFS) and the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), such as Sunil Pandey, forest secretary in the Uttar Pradesh government; Sanjiv Kumar, environment secretary with the Delhi government; and J.S. Pandey, a scientist at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
As per the environment ministry official quoted above, the main competition was between two officers of the IFS, but the selection committee felt that they lack the experience and expertise to handle the work of the CPCB chairperson.
As a result, the committee has now asked for the whole process to be started once again.
“The CPCB will now issue a fresh advertisement seeking new names,” the official said.
The official said another problem is that the ministry did not receive a good response for the job from renowned scientists with a good track record. “They did not apply at all. It is probably because there is a general feeling that the board does not have much power,” the official said.
Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar has been criticized by activists for allowing the position to lie vacant, even after the government took office more than year ago.
This is not the first time that the environment ministry has failed to appoint a CPCB chief. Shortlists were scrapped twice by the appointments committee of the cabinet in 2013 and 2014.
The environment ministry was hoping that a decision would be reached the third time around.
The position has been lying vacant since February 2012 when CPCB chief S.P. Gautam demitted office. Since then, various officers of the ministry have been handling the additional charge of CPCB chairperson.
Apart from the civil society groups, Supreme Court of India too pulled up the government in October over the matter.
The CPCB, formed in September 1974, plays a key role in prevention, control and abatement of water and air pollution. The body is also in-charge of the installation work of real-time (online) monitoring systems for effluent discharge from highly-polluting industries into the Ganges, which gives it an important role in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project of cleaning the river.
The government wants candidates applying for the post to have a postgraduate degree in science, special knowledge of the subject and at least 15 years’ practical experience in environmental protection. The tenure of the selected candidate will be of three years.
Environmentalists are unimpressed by the efforts made so far. “CPCB is India’s premier pollution controlling body, and it is supposed to guide and lead other institutions towards better pollution control mechanism. If it is left headless for so many years, one can see where the government’s policy for controlling pollution is going,” said Rahul Choudhary, an environmental lawyer.