Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh on Wednesday criticised the country's “blind development plans” at the cost of ecological balance.

“I am not against development but it should not be at the cost of our environment. We are presently following development plans blindly which can only lead to damage of the environment with ultimate impact on the people.”

Launching the country's first research centre on marine biodiversity at Jamnagar in the Saurashtra region for protection of the fragile coastal eco-system, he said it was clear from the popular agitations in different States that the people did not want development unless it simultaneously ensured protection of the environment.

In an oblique reference to the mushroom growth of ports and newer demands for setting up steel and cement plants in coastal areas, Mr. Ramesh asked: “What is the use of providing employment to the people if their health is not protected?” Uncontrolled development of industries caused environmental pollution and resulted in health hazards, particularly cough and cancer.

Training for youth

The National Centre for Marine Biodiversity (NCBM), he said, would promote different kinds of research on coastal and marine eco-systems and also impart training and education to youth for maintaining the ecological balance in the fragile coastal areas. The Gujarat port town was selected for the centre for its proximity to the country's only National Marine Park spread over a 200-sqkm area in the Gulf of Kutch.

Mr. Ramesh said the centre would be his Ministry's first public-private partnership venture with Reliance Industries, which has a major oil refinery in Jamnagar, sharing 50 % cost of the initial project sanction of Rs. 20 crore.

Explaining the reasons for making Reliance group chairman Mukesh Ambani a partner for the project, Mr. Ramesh had a dig at the government system. He said he wanted the centre to attract the best talent for research and education, “but it is not possible at the government scale to attract such brains. That is why we need private partnership.” However, partnership at the centre did not mean “permission” to Reliance or any other industry in the coastal region to pollute the environment. “If Reliance fails to keep the norms, my Ministry will not spare it.”

Mr. Ramesh, who earlier visited the National Marine Park, expressed his displeasure over its upkeep and asked State forest authorities to remove industrial pollution from the vicinity. The Ministry would issue a notification within three weeks or so for setting up a monitoring committee for the entire Gulf of Kutch, which had been declared an eco-sensitive area, to ensure strict compliance with norms by all in the coastal areas.