The Curious Case Of Environment Minister Replacements: What Is Congress Trying To Do?

Posted on January 3, 2014 in Environment, Politics

By Joseph Antony:

Much has been talked about the UPA Government in the last 5 years. A lot of it has been with regard to its failures and other not-so pleasing tales of corruption and political bankruptcy. What’s most disquieting in all this is its continued insouciance towards its own bad image. Each time you read the news of a new scam or a new scandal, you’d think the Congress would now pull their socks up and try to repair their image. It has failed to do even that–quite unsurprisingly!


But every dark cloud has a silver lining. And that for Congress was its Environment Ministry. The UPA had first appointed A. Raja as the Environment Minister. The infamous minister, known for his involvement in the 2G Scam, had granted 2,016 environmental clearances, some of which are highly dubious deals currently investigated by the CBI. During his time in the ministry, A. Raja gave free reign to private corporations reducing the environmental ministry and its machinery to a mere rubber stamp.

When the UPA II came to power, Jairam Ramesh took charge of the ministry. During his reign, the ministry went through innumerable changes–many of them receiving praise and appreciation from the media–also, re-instating its reputation as a credible institution for protecting our environment. At where we are now, you have to agree the Congress did well to replace Raja with Jairam Ramesh.

It was during his reign that the National Green Tribunal came into force. This was acclaimed as a huge game changer and was largely appreciated by environmentalists and progressive sections of the society. The National Green Tribunal has since then gained reputation for its people friendly decisions especially after it rejected clearances for controversial projects like Vedanta’s and POSCO in Orissa.

His strong stance on environmental concerns had upset many in the ‘pro-growth’ apple-cart. He genuinely pushed the idea of sustainable development which won plaudits from many. But the Congress has a weird way of undoing itself. Jairam Ramesh was replaced with Jayanthi Natarajan, who is seen as a more “development friendly” official. Talk about killing the golden goose. It was almost like the Congress is trying to be willfully regressive, like–it doesn’t want anything good being talked about it.

Jayanthi Natarajan, however, to the surprise of the “pro-growth” minded people, resigned mysteriously. She was replaced with Veerappa Moily.

With this the Congress has well and truly demolished its only pillar of virtue. Not only has the Congress failed to capitalize on the achievements under Jairam Ramesh, it is now drawing immense flak for defiling the goodwill of the institution. How else can replacing Jayanthi Natarajan with the current Petroleum Minister and ex-Union Minister for Corporate affairs, be seen?

India has a history of callous administration towards environmental issues and concerns. Recent controversy over the implementation of Gadgil committee recommendations for the protection of Western Ghats is a shining example of what that is. The Western Ghats which is known for its plant and animal diversity is categorized as a World Heritage site. Yet, when it came to the crucial political decision to implement the directives by Gadgil Committee, the political establishment failed miserably.

When the rest of the world is moving towards sustainable development practices and by it a greener tomorrow, shouldn’t we at least consider our environment and forests to be a priority?

Corruption and price rise maybe what most people hate about the Congress government now. But complacency and callous administration could well turn out to be a bigger disaster than any other of Congress’ misdeeds. That’s why our first priorities should be conservation and then growth. Any decision on environmental impact should be carefully perused and re-evaluated.

Jayanthi Natarajan had recommended raising the minimum time required to give environmental clearances. The current environmental minister-cum-corporate sock puppet, however, decided to do away with that. Moily then goes on and declares, quite shamelessly: “I am the one who is accustomed to dispose of the files by the evening. Not even a single file will be taken home”

On his first day at the office, Moily decided that Sand mining in less than 5 hectares doesn’t even need an environmental clearance. Its noteworthy that this comes at a time when the Governments in many states such as that of Kerala and Tamil Nadu are fighting tooth and nail against the sand mining mafia. The national green tribunal also had banned sand mining in coastal areas of Kerala and Tamil Nadu in August. Monazite mining in coastal areas is said to cause health hazards due to radiation from rare earth minerals. It is also said that an estimated 96,000 crore worth of Monazite has been illegally exported from our shores in the last decade. Imagine!

The environment ministry under the stewardship of Jairam Ramesh was exemplary. The work ethic and culture, the dispassionate decisions were deserving of the highest praise. A huge opportunity has now been lost.

The greatest sin in politics may not be that you didn’t make things better for your countrymen, but breaking what is not broken. The congress is guilty of that.