As new Environment Minister Veerappa Moily took charge at Paryavaran Bhavan, nearly 350 files were found to have been held back by predecessor Jayanthi Natarajan and her office.
Documents accessed by The Indian Express show that as many as 180 of these files, returned from her residence on December 22, 23 and 24, were unsigned. But 119 were signed files which were still held back by the minister for some reason, while another 50 signed ones were retained by her staff.
As many as 28 of these went to her in 2012, while two-three date back to 2011.
On January 2, 2014, an office memorandum titled ‘Status of files submitted to the Office of the then MOS (IC) E&F Smt Jayanthi Natarajan’ was issued to all divisional heads in the Ministry of Environment & Forests, sharing the lists of the files sent back. This memorandum — accessed by this newspaper — asked all divisions, sections and units to go through these lists and to “indicate whether apart from the listed files, any other file is still pending with the Office of the then MoS (IC)”.
The order further asked all officials to treat this matter “urgently” and to take up the matter with Moily’s office.
Sources in the ministry said some files seem to have not found mention on the lists and the same is being updated based on feedback from various divisions of the ministry.
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Two lists detailing the files with Natarajan and her office were shared with Moily. The list flagged ‘A’ contained details of the 119 signed files, while ‘B’ had details of the 180 unsigned files.
The lists show that as many as 45 cases pending with Natarajan were of impact assessment, 47 related to forest clearances, and seven to wildlife issues. Still other files related to matters of the Indian Forest Service, Coastal Regulatory Zone clearances, National Tiger Conservation Authority etc.
Of the 50 files with the former minister’s staff, 39 were related to impact assessment.
Environment clearance or forest clearance recommended by either the Environment Appraisal Committee or Forest Advisory Committee has to get the minister’s approval to come into effect.