At a time when Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan government is facing public outrage for backdoor appointments into state services, High Court advocate K Rajendran Uliyakovil wrote a letter to Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan and Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar about the irregularities in the appointment of the Chairperson of Kerala Biodiversity Board. In his letters, he claims that an “inappropriate and incompetent” person was appointed to the post through “the wrong process”.
He wrote that the government set up a search committee in November last year, but they didn’t do anything for a good three months. He added that the state government announced the recruitment on January 3, 2021, and only one week was given for candidates to apply for the post. The letter reads, “No public announcement through media was made, even of a summary, but only posted on the Biodiversity Board’s website, obviously they were keen to hide the vacancy.” It also stressed that the interview process was conducted in no time, by likely rejecting a few eminent candidates who had applied for the job.
Rajendran is referring to the appointment of Dr C George Thomas as the chairperson of KSBB. The Board’s newsletter had announced his taking charge in the February edition. However, in his letter, Rajendran called the appointment suspect, and that George’s qualification was nothing other than “being a secretary or president of ruling party’s teachers’ trade union of the Kerala Agricultural University where he had worked”.
On this background, it is important to note that the Biodiversity Act suggests that the Chairperson “shall be an eminent person having adequate knowledge and experience in the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and matters relating to equitable sharing”. However, it is unclear whether Dr George Thomas has any prior experience in the three areas mentioned in the act.
On the other hand, this is not the first problematic appointment in KSBB during the LDF government. In 2017, the appointment of former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests SC Joshi as the chairperson of the KSBB had invited the wrath of environmentalists and academicians. The opponents of the appointment had alleged that the selection was made at the command of an advisor to the Chief Minister.
Various organisations alleged that the appointment of Joshi would allow the state to continue their “onslaught of the natural resources” since he has no experience in the ABS (Access and Benefit Sharing) aspect of the chairperson. Since Joshi was formerly of the Forests Department, the activists claimed that he could bring with him the “militant approach to local communities” to the biodiversity board resulting in disastrous results for the indigenous communities.
Even in the case of Joshi, the people had alleged that the recruitment lacked transparency and openness. However, this did allow the government “to follow their development narrative at the cost of environmental protection”.
Meanwhile, interestingly, in a similar case, the Kerala High Court had earlier cancelled the appointment of Chairman of State Pollution Control Board AB Pradeep Kumar whose appointment was conducted similarly. The Court stressed that the process adopted by the selection committee, which was headed by the Chief Secretary, was improper and nine eligible candidates were not called for the interview process.
However, the Court later ordered the selection to be completed within four months and allowed Pradeep to function as chairperson till a new decision was taken by the selection committee on this matter. The court’s verdict was based on a writ petition filed by KS Govindan Nair, a former member secretary of the board against the selection of Pradeep. Interestingly, both these boards come under the Department of Environment, which is under Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.