Clubbing of portfolios criticised

CHENNAI, MAY 20. The Chief Minister, Ms. Jayalalitha's decision to club Environment, Pollution Control and Forests with other subjects has been criticised by officials and environmentalists alike who opine that it may lead to a conflict of interests.

Environment and Pollution Control was placed under the charge of Mr. V. Jayaraman who has also been given the portfolio of Industries, Iron and Steel Control, Mines and Minerals and Electronics.

Forests has been handed over to Mr. S.S. Thirunavukkarasu who will be looking at a variety of subjects including Information and Publicity, Film Technology, Cinematograph Act and Newsprint Control.

Officials point out that Tamil Nadu has a whole lot of issues concerning environmental degradation and pollution. In this context, combining Industries with the Environment and Pollution Control would be counter-productive.

While the interest of the Industries department would be to promote industries, the concern of the Department of Environment and Forests would be to monitor if the industries were observing pollution control norms.

The same Minister handling both the portfolios was akin to the same person playing ``the judge, jury, plaintiff and defendant'', an official said. If the Industries department was convinced about promoting an industrial project on account of the job opportunities it could generate or the foreign investments it could draw, it would not be fair if the same Ministry was to give environmental clearance for the project, the official said.

However, a senior official responding to the suggestion that Environment and Forests could be made a separate portfolio, observed that there was also the possibility that the Minister handling both the subjects would have a better knowledge of the issues involved before decisions were taken.

Environment officials however differ on the issue. Citing the example of the DMK Government's prestige project of the Tamil Nadu Petrochem Park proposed to be situated in Kattupalli between Ennore and Pulicat, officials said while the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO) was acquiring the land to set up the infrastructure, there was tremendous resistance from fishermen, villagers and environmentalists alike against construction of the complex on ecological grounds. ``In this context, the very same Minister who has mooted the idea for a project is unlikely to object to it on environmental grounds'', officials said.

When in a situation of increasing atmospheric pollution from growing number of private vehicles, the Ministry will find itself in a catch 22 situation if it has to yield to the pressure from the automobile industry versus the need to promote mass transport, sources said.

While environment, restoration of ecology and control of pollution was gaining currency in the national and international scenario, officials feel that Environment, Pollution Control and Forests should be made independent to facilitate better monitoring and functioning without conflict of interest.