Selection of NBA Chairman: The exercise to fill the post is under a cloud

Lalit Shastri

nba chairman ad Questions are being raised once more in knowledgeable circles about the objectivity and fairness of the ongoing selection process for the appointment of the next chairman of National Biodiversity Board and it is being pointed out that the mandatory requirement of experience of benefit sharing arising out of the use of biodiversity is being put on the backburner to kep this post reserved only for a bureacrat.

In a span of 17-months – between October 2013 and March 2015 – the Government of India has twice initited the process for selecting the chairman of National Biodiversity Authority (NBA). The first time this exercise went into a spin and the process was abandoned mid-way as there was “conflict of interest” and on PMO’s intervention the approval granted by the Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change for the appointment of the secretary in the same ministry to this important post was withdrawn and it was decided to go through the selection process all over again.

NBA was set up on October 1, 2003 through Gazette Notification in exercise of the powers conferred by the sub-section (1) and (4) of Section 8 of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 (18 of 2003). The Authority is a body corporate and its head office is at Chennai.

Applications were invited to fill the post of chairman NBA for the second time in the last week of February this year. The advertisement followed the letter and sririt of the Biologocal Diversity Act while spelling out in categorical terms that the chairman shall be an eminent person having adequate knowledge and experience in the conservation and sustainable use of of biological diversity and in matters relating to equitable sharing of benefits arising ot of use of biological resources. The advertisement also made it mandatory that the candidate should hold at least a post graduate degree. The advertisement further said that the candidate should be well versed with current developments related to to access and benefit sharing under various relevant international fora. candidates were also supposed to have experience of working with different stakeholders in biodiversity and experience in participation in international negotiations.

The earlier advertisement for this post issued in October 2013 also carried the same requirements. Ministry insiders had informed at that stage that the advertisement to fill this post had been tailor-made to suit the candidature of then Secretary MoEF V Rajagopalan, IAS (UP: 1978). It was pointed out that the mandatory requirement of direct ground-level experience of equitable sharing of benefits arising out of sustainable use of biological resources was relaxed and a premium was placed on being “well versed with current developments related to access and benefit sharing under various relevant international fora”. Even this time the call for applications has the same thrust, ministry insiders said adding “may be to suit the interest of some other bureaucrat.

Inquiries have revealed that after the interview stage during the ongoing selection process, a panel of three names has been forwarded to the PMO for final selection. One of those in the panel is a former Secretary in Union Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions and now posted as chief secretary in a state. He is a graduate engineer with a post graduate diploma in management and lacks the mandatory PG qualification. It is being said in knowledgeable circles that the Government has paved the way once again to tilt the selection process to pick a “favourite” for the post by repeatedly puting the waiver clause which says: “The Government may on its own discretion relax one or more of the…requirements in case of an applicant of outstanding ability.”

The first time, dozens of applications were received for the NBA chairman’s post in response to the demand raised by the MoEF website for filling up this post on October 5, 2013. Seven of the applicants were short-listed and called for interview on April 29 this year. The MoEF had announced that the post of the Chairperson of the National Biodiversity Authority (Rashtriya Jaiwa Vividhata Pradhikaran) is to be filled upon completion of the tenure of the present incumbent.

Mr. Rajagopalan’s name for the top post was initially approved by former Minister for MoEF M. Veerappa Moily when Manmohan Singh was prime minister. Mr. Moily had withdrawn his approval on May 15, 2014. It is learnt that Mr. Moily withdrew his earlier decision in favour of Mr. Rajagopalan as he saw a “conflict of interest” in the selection process. Mr. Moily had recorded dissent by saying he did not know that in his capacity as secretary Mr. Rajagopalan had recommended only a single name for the appointment of chairman of the selection committee for appointing the NBA chief.

Section 8. 4 (a) of Biological Diversity Act, 2002, which deals with the appointment of chairman of NBA, says: “the Chairperson shall be an eminent person having adequate knowledge and experience in the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and in matters relating to equitable sharing of benefits and will be appointed by the Government of India”. Section 8.4 (a) of the Act, which is the law of the land, makes it mandatory for the government to ensure that the NBA chairman should have both “knowledge and experience in conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and in matters relating to equitable sharing of benefits”. The Act does not allow any relaxation on this count and the MoEF call for applications both in October 2013 and February this year crossed the mandatory line by stating “that it may on its own discretion relax one or more of the aforesaid requirements in case of an applicant of outstanding ability.

MoEF sources had informed during the first selection process which was later scuttled that the criteria inserted by MoEF that the candidate “must also be well versed with current developments related to access and benefit sharing under various relevant international fora. Experience of working with different stakeholders in biodiversity, experience in participation in international negotiations, and an understanding of legal issues shall be desirable was meant to overshadow the mandatory requirement in terms of “experience in the field of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and in matters relating to equitable benefit sharing” only to entertain the MoEF secretary for the NBA chief’s post.

India is party to the Convention on Biological Diversity(CBD) 1992 which recognizes the sovereign rights of states to use their own Biological Resources. In order to help in realizing the objectives of CBD, India has enacted an umbrella legislation called the biological Diversity Act 2002(No.18 of 2003) aimed at conservation of biological resources and associated knowledge as well as facilitating access to them in a sustainable manner and through a just process.

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