In a major disclosure, former Union Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said she received “specific requests” from Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on environmental clearances and she consequently rejected big-ticket projects despite pressure from Cabinet colleagues seeking approval.
In a strong letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi in November, exclusively available with The Hindu , Ms. Natarajan said she had become a victim of a “vicious, false and motivated” media campaign by particular, chosen individuals in the party after Mr. Gandhi shifted from his pro-environmental position to a corporate-friendly one at the height of electioneering for the Lok Sabha.
Read the >full letter here .
A day after she resigned, Mr. Gandhi’s office “planted stories” in the media that her resignation “was not for party work,” she said.
The letter also indicated that Mr. Gandhi was involved in policy decisions at a micro level during the UPA II under Dr. Manmohan Singh, something that the Congress has consistently denied.
“I received specific requests [which used to be directives for us] from Shri Rahul Gandhi and his office forwarding environmental concerns in some important areas and I took care to honour those requests,” the letter says.
Vedanta vs tribals Mr. Gandhi’s views on Vedanta’s proposal to mine bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills in Odisha were conveyed to her by his office and she took “great care to ensure that the interests of the tribals were protected and rejected environmental clearance to Vedanta” despite “tremendous pressure” from her colleagues in the Cabinet and huge criticism from the industry.
In the case of projects of the Adani group, Ms. Natarajan said she was asked by Mr. Gandhi’s office to “liaise” with Gujarat Congressman Deepak Babaria on complaints of NGOs and local fisherfolk about violations.
“In fact, you [Sonia Gandhi] have yourself conveyed your concern in this regard in letters written to me in several cases, including the stalled GVK power project regarding Dhari Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh, the Lavasa project in Maharashtra, Nirma cement plant in Gujarat and in several other cases I was given specific input to make my decision,” the letter said.
While her resignation in December 2013, a mere 100 days before the parliamentary elections, sparked a major controversy, the Congress had said then that she was being drafted back into the organisation for party work.
However, Ms. Natarajan states in the letter that she is still unaware of the real reasons for her “removal.”
Ms. Natarajan’s letter said that despite having an unblemished reputation of 30 years in public life, her own work and the glorious legacy of her family stood ruined by the developments. Ms. Gandhi is yet to reply to the letter and Ms. Natarajan’s repeated attempts to meet the Congress leadership and defend herself had failed.
In this context, she mentions that a few days before her resignation, she had taken stern action to retrieve a file on the Adani group which had “gone missing” and was later found in a washroom. Her decision to notify the Kasturirangan Committee report on Western Ghats a day before leaving office also earned her enemies in Kerala.
But it was the “uncomplimentary references to delays in environmental clearances and the adverse effects upon the economy” made by Mr. Gandhi at a FICCI meeting a day after she stepped down, that hit her like a “thunder-bolt,” Ms Natarajan said.
She also revealed that despite her reluctance, she was forced by the party to attack Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the ‘snoopgate’ controversy, despite her stand that any criticism should be policy-related and not personal.