NEW DELHI, July 31 - In a major setback for anti-dam movement activists in Assam, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday dismissed their plea by describing it as �far-fetched� and holding that there is no material on record justifying their plea of bias.
�We have not found any material on record justifying the plea of bias. The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) has conducted the appraisal. The Competent Authority (CA) has agreed with the same. Mere association of organisations with the project in professional capacity is not enough to hold that any expert who worked in such association will have an institutional bias,� a four-member NGT bench comprising tribunal�s chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, judicial members Justice SP Wangdi and Justice K Ramakrishnan, and expert member Dr Nagin Nanda ruled.
�Accordingly, we do not find any merit in the applications and the same are dismissed,� the NGT order, which was reserved on last Thursday said.
The petitioners in the case were Aabhijeet Sharma and Tularam Gogoi. The case is related to the Subansiri Lower hydroelectric project being set up by the NHPC Ltd over the river Subansiri on the Assam- Arunachal Pradesh border to generate 2,000 MW of power.
The NGT bench observed that it was not the case of the applicants that any of the experts has any pecuniary interest or personal interest. �Pre-disposition which may disable a person from going into the merits may also be bias but no such pre-disposition has been shown. The plea of the applicant is far-fetched,� it said.
�The present committee has only recommendatory role. There is safeguard of further evaluation by experts. The project is to advance in public interest,� the NGT said. �The counsel for the applicant submitted that constitution of the expert committee as well as further proceedings may be set aside on the ground that the expert committee was biased,� it said.
On the other hand, counsel for the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) as well as NHPC opposed the above submission. It was pointed out that mere association of the experts with an organisation which may have given advice was not enough to infer any bias on the part of the experts. Moreover, the experts are to collectively give an opinion for consideration of the EAC. The decision is of the EAC itself, which comprises of 15 independent experts, the order said.
In the present case, the tribunal was required to constitute a three-member expert committee to visit the project site, hold meeting with the constituent groups of POC, the experts of the NHPC and the applicants or his nominees, and then examine the reports of various committees and alternative proposal of the applicant.