National

Jayanthi waged an ‘everyday battle over policy’

Mumbai 20/06/2013 Union environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan addressing a press conference in Mumbai on June 20, 2013. Photo: Vivek Bendre   | Photo Credit: VIVEK BENDRE

Former Union Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said she had to wage an “everyday battle” to balance the demands of the Cabinet and the wishes of the Congress high command, and the two often had conflicting views on environmental policy. She said ‘no’ to many projects even to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

A source close to Ms. Natarajan in the Congress said ever since she took over as the Environment Minister from Mr. Jairam Ramesh, she spent most of her time trying to convince senior Cabinet colleagues to take the same position as Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

“This meant she had to say ‘no’ to Dr. Singh on clearance of projects which he desperately wanted to sail through to give the economy a boost,” the source said, on condition of anonymity. Dr. Singh had registered his strong disappointment with Ms. Natarajan several times, during which she had to take refuge in the ‘directives’ sent by Mr. Gandhi.

One example was the Niyamgiri project of Vedanta, where, despite opposition from several Ministries, she sat with government law officers and took a hard stand supporting tribal rights in the affidavit of the MoEF in the Supreme Court. “She felt it was a great fortune that the apex court accepted these arguments, and made several trips to temples to thank the gods,” the source said.

On Friday, the former Minister said she was not, however, making any allegation of corruption against the Congress vice-president.

The pressure to sanction projects became stronger as the Lok Sabha polls got closer and Narendra Modi and the BJP launched a scathing attack on the UPA government on the economic front.

“She felt let down by the fact that her decisions were overruled by the Group of Ministers, first led by the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and then by NCP leader Sharad Pawar on many occasions. But even then, she stuck to her method as she thought it was what the party wanted,” the source said.

But the last straw was her removal from the panel of spokespersons just three months before the elections. “She felt her relevance in the party was at stake since the promise of being given an important party position after her resignation was not kept by the high command,” the source said.



Jayanthi Natarajan's Trajectory

Fact File

  • First elected to Rajya Sabha in 1986 and again in 1992
  • 1996: Joins party leaders to form Tamil Maanila Congress
  • 1997: Resigns from Rajya Sabha and re-elected as TMC member. She is appointed Minister of State for Coal, Civil Aviation and Parliamentary Affairs in United Front government at the Centre
  • July 12, 2011: Jayanthi replaces Jairam Ramesh as Environment Minister in the UPA-led Union government
  • November 16, 2013: She is asked by Ajay Maken to address media to attack then BJP PM candidate Modi on ‘Snoopgate’ issue
  • December 19, 2013: She notifies order on the protection of Western Ghats based on Kasturirangan report amid protests
  • December 20, 2013: She is forced to resign as Minister of State for Environment and Forests (Independent Charge) to ‘work for the Congress party’
  • December 21, 2013: Rahul Gandhi addresses FICCI meet: “Many of you have expressed your frustration with environmental clearances that are delaying projects unduly. Environmental and social damage must be avoided, but decisions must also be transparent, timely and fair.”
  • January, 2014: Environment Minister Veerappa Moily clears pending mega projects
  • November 5, 2014: Jayanthi writes to Sonia Gandhi to express her anguish at the treatment meted out to her

Key projects stalled/rejected

Adani group project: Asked by Rahul Gandhi to ‘liase’ with Gujarat Congress’ Deepak Babaria on complaints by NGO, fisherfolk

Vedanta Rs.4,500-crore Bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hills

August, 2010: Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi assures Niyamgiri tribals he is their ‘sipahi [soldier] in Delhi’

April, 2013: Supreme Court rules Vedanta must get nod from 12 gram sabhas of Niyamgiri hills

“If the bauxite mining project in any way affects [villagers’] religious rights, especially their right to worship their deity, that right has to be preserved and protected” : SC Bench

January, 2014: MoEF rejects environmental clearance to project

Lavasa township project in Maharashtra

November, 2010: MoEF slaps financial penalty on Lavasa for violation of Environment Protection Act, orders fresh EIA

June, 2011: MoEF offers nod to project subject to five preconditions, Lavasa agrees to four (environmental restoration fund, CSR allocation, revised development plan)

November, 2011: MoEF grants clearance after year-long holdover

Nirma Cement plant in Gujarat

May, 2011: MoEF seeks relocation of plant from ‘wetland’ site

June, 2013: MoEF postpones expert panel’s pre-monsoon visit to site to ascertain whether it is waterbody or wasteland.

Supreme Court Bench call the postponement “abuse of process of law”



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