Until a few months ago, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh was
hogging the headlines by halting some of the biggest projects for
violation of green norms. He's back in the limelight, but this
time for controversial clearances and candidly revealing that he
has been "forced to compromise", a shift that industry has hailed
as the "middle path".
From being a green crusader to a "helpless" minister, as some
activists now call him, the tide began turning early this year
with his ministry giving conditional nods to South Korean major
Posco's $12 billion integrated steel project in Orissa Jan 31.
According to ministry officials, the order to clear Posco - the
largest foreign investment project in the country - came following
pressure from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).
While industry has welcomed the move, the 57-year-old minister,
who brought India to the forefront of international climate change
talks, has been criticised by the greens for "buckling under
"We have to say that he is violating statutory conditions on
dictation from above. It is shocking and shameful and is an open
comment on the crony nature of current governance in India," said
Medha Patkar of the Narmda Bachao Andolan (NBA).
Calling him helpless, Shankar Gopalakrishnan of the Campaign for
Survival and Dignity, a national platform of tribal and forest
dwellers' organisations, said: "There is no legal institution and
no effort is being made to address the problem on the ground."
"There is a lot of image politics and symbolic action, but nothing
has changed as far as the underlying procedure is concerned,"
Gopalakrishnan told IANS.
On Wednesday, nearly 30 graduating students of the prestigious
Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai boycotted their
annual convocation ceremony where the minister was the chief guest
to protest against him over proposed nuclear power projects in
various parts of the country.
The image of the maverick minister suffered another blow May 6
when he cleared the 400 MW Maheshwar hydroelectric power project
on the Narmada river in Madhya Pradesh despite non-compliance of
conditions given at the time of green clearance.
Ramesh said he had no choice but to agree to lifting the order in
view of the decisions taken at various meetings convened by the
"I am totally against regularising illegality. Unfortunately, many
times I am forced to regularise. There are some occasions when I
have not compromised. On some occasions, I had to compromise," he
However, some environmentalists are not ready to buy that
"I think it is the collective responsibility of the council of
ministers of which Jairam Ramesh is a part and he can't put
everything on the PMO. He is trying to behave like he is the only
good guy and the rest are bad," said an environmentalist on
condition of anonymity.
Chander Bhushan of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)
told IANS: "The problem is we don't have an institutional
mechanism to address such problems. I don't understand why the PMO
has to intervene in all major projects and why we can't set a
mechanism which will simplify the problem."
Ramesh did stop Vedanta's bauxite mining project in Orissa last
Bhushan said Ramesh has brought some energy to the ministry which
had been almost dead for the past 10 years. But there hasn't been
any significant change in the procedure used to accord green
clearance to projects, he said.
Industry has of course welcomed the recent clearances by Ramesh's
"We welcome the decisions to clear prominent infrastructure
projects like Posco, Jindal Steel Plant. The ministry has, of
course, taken the decision by balancing the growth aspect and
environment imperatives," Seema Arora, head of environment desk,
Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), told IANS.
"It is a forward move as the government is looking at the middle
path so that we don't compromise on growth," she said.
Data collected under the Right to Information Act by environment
lawyer Ritwick Dutta shows that during Ramesh's tenure, projects
were actually getting cleared much faster and fewer projects were
rejected compared to his predecessor A. Raja.
Environmental clearance for just six projects was rejected during
August 2009-July 2010, compared to 14 projects rejected during
2006-07 to 2007-08. All in all, 769 projects were received and 535
were approved. The rest are pending.
"Ramesh has stopped only some high-profile projects like Lavasa,
Posco, Vedanta and Adarsh... what about the rest which have been
cleared and can do more damage to environment?" Bhushan asked.
(Richa Sharma can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)