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Adani Advisor in Govt Expert Committee Raises Concerns

The expert committee in the Environment Ministry oversees and assesses hydro project proposals submitted by various companies.

Image Courtesy: PTI

Kolkata: A latest report has revealed that a key advisor to the Adani Green Energy Limited is presently a member of an Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC) under the central government. The hydro project proposals of the same company are placed for clearance before this committee, The Indian Express reported.  

This committee oversees and assesses hydro project proposals submitted by various companies. 

The Union Environment Ministry named Janardan Choudharyon September 27 as one of the seven non-institutional members of the committee. This was done when the Ministry reconstituted the EAC for hydroelectricity and river valley projects, the IE report said. 

The inaugural meeting of the restructured EAC (hydel) convened on October 17-18. Official records indicate Chaudhary's presence at the October 17 meeting, coinciding with AGEL’s 1500 MW Tarali Pumping Storage Project's evaluation in Maharashtra’s Satara, as per the report. 

AGEL had sought modifications in the project’s Terms of Reference (ToR) to accommodate changes in the project layout. This adjustment became necessary when it was realised that the proposed water conductor system intersected with an existing wind farm. This posed construction challenges whether the system is built underground or below the wind turbine foundations. After deliberation, the EAC favoured AGEL's request. 

In this regard, Choudhury told The Indian Express that he did not take part in the EAC discussion on the AEGL project. “I abstained when the matter came up,” he said. However, the minutes of the meeting do not mention his recusal. Addressing this, Choudhary told the newspaper that the minutes will be amended accordingly. 

The EAC's function involves granting approval to projects as mandated by the 2006 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Specific categories of projects need prior environmental clearance (EC), and ten EACs are tasked with evaluating these proposals across diverse sectors to decide on their clearance. 

After retiring from the position of the Director (Technical) of NHPC in March 2020, Choudhary has assumed the role of advisor (pumped storage plants and hydro) for Adani Green Energy Limited (AGEL) since April 2022. 

Choudhary's appointment as an EAC member has raised potential concerns regarding conflicts of interest, especially as AGEL's pumped storage projects undergo scrutiny by the same committee. 

Presently, AGEL's projects under EAC review comprise: 850 MW Raiwada, 1800 MW Pedakota (both in Andhra Pradesh), 2100 MW Patgaon, 2,450 MW Koyna-Nivakane, 1500 MW Malshej Ghat Bhorande, and 1500 MW Tarali (all in Maharashtra), the IE reported. 

Furthermore, the company envisages developing an additional 3.7 gigawatts of pumped storage, entailing an investment of Rs 15,740 crore in Andhra Pradesh. 

However, a senior ministry official referenced multiple Supreme Court orders, highlighting the adverse implications of such routine appointments within appraisal committees. 

The official told the IE that just abstaining from discussions related to one's employer's projects was not sufficient. “What about the projects involving competitors? Or the potential for mutual favours among members, even if they abstain from directly linked projects? The possibility of bias is more critical than proving bias itself.” 

Choudhary defended his stance saying the Ministry acknowledged  my advisory role in a private company and that he was not exclusively affiliated with one entity and advised multiple of them. “My EAC appointment is premised on providing impartial opinions in the committee’s best interest,” he told the IE. 

Opposition Hits Back

"Adani Pradhan Sevak appointed Adani employee Janardhan Choudhury as a member of EAC under Environment Ministry. This committee has to approve 6 Adani projects (10,300 MW)," the Kerala Congress posted on its official X account, according to a PTI report.

Shiv Sena (UBT) leader and Rajya Sabha member Priyanka Chaturvedi said on X: "Please don’t even mention conflict of interest etc. that applies for others not where friends with benefits are concerned." "If an ethics committee can hold an elected member of parliament guilty for sharing email by calling it a national security and conflict of interest issue, how is a person working as an advisor to a private company, a company that has pending approvals in MoEFs NAC be allowed a seat on the NAC itself? No issues of conflict of interest applicable here? No reasons to investigate and find out how he made it there, who put him there & why is he the chosen one?" she said.

TMC MP Mahua Moitra, facing possible expulsion from the Lok Sabha following a recommendation by the Ethics Committee, said, "Modiji's Ministry of Environment appointed Adani employee Janardhan Choudhury as a member of EAC - 6 Adani projects totaling 10300 MW up for appraisal by this @moefcc committee."

(inputs from PTI)

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