In this session moderated by Senior Editor Archna Shukla and Assistant Editor Anubhuti Vishnoi, Prakash Javadekar, who holds the portfolio of Environment, I&B and Parliamentary Affairs, says the UPA government has left behind “a sad legacy” but instead of indulging in a blame game, he would rather move on and take quick decisions
When we talk of aspirations, we presume aspirations belong to either the rich or the middle class. But now I find a very eloquent expression of aspirations among the poor. Earlier, when the government provided a village power connectivity and also one free bulb per house, it presumed that the villager will be happy with that one bulb. But mow, he wants immediate connection, a fan, another light and then a radio and a TV set. So the load increases. This load is the expression of the aspiration of the poor. We must eradicate poverty. That is the challenge in the Environment ministry. People are expecting us to take decisions which were absent earlier. Take the issue of governors. ‘Why are they not resigning,’ a section of media asked us in 2004. It is the exact opposite of what they are saying now. People want us to avoid delays, to take proactive steps and give innovative solutions. Even the government advertisement will change. We are now crowd-sourcing DAVP (Directorate of Advertising & Visual Publicity) ads. We are not doing away with DAVP’s creative unit; they will moderate and examine. Crowd-sourcing means people will give ideas, new slogans. If they are good, we will accept. Otherwise, we will improvise. Everything has to be fine-tuned, made attractive. I have told Doordarshan that their task is to make DD the first choice of people. I am asking all cable operators to show DD; cable operators don’t show DD channels. This is unacceptable. The Prime Minister is hearing each ministry — their visions, programmes, action plans.
Archna Shukla : The government isn’t reaching out to the media.
There are experienced leaders in the ministries. There are also many who are new; they are learning. Speaking to the media without complete knowledge is dangerous. We will definitely talk to the media.
Anubhuti vishnoi: During the UPA’s term, your party had time and again pointed out to the lack of decision-making in the Environment ministry.
It’s a sad legacy, but we have decided not to indulge in a blame game, and move ahead. As I was in the standing committee pertaining to defence, I have first-hand experience of what was pending regarding defence projects. For example, Karwar, the new Navy hub, is of strategic importance. The residential township there will accommodate 30,000 people. The project was held up for nearly three years. We cleared it within three minutes after discussions, because we believe this is what people want. Another example is the China border. Chinese roads are wonderful, their townships are coming up fast. But our roads are in very bad shape due to lack of environmental clearances. Only when the country is saved, can we save people and environment. For this, we need better border roads. Clearance was awaited for 6,000 km of roads. If they had to build an Army station for 10 jawans, the file would come to the Central ministry. This is obnoxious. We are going in the general direction of granting approvals 100 km from the Line of Control. It’s a big relief that 10,000 files won’t come to me now.
I asked the Defence ministry for a trade-off. We will take pro-defence decisions, and they will give us clearances pertaining to Defence land, involving railway overbridges, flyovers, road widening and other projects. Narendra Modi has guided us to take policy-based decisions. We are strengthening the Coast Guard and chowkis will be built on the coast. Many such clearances were pending. I cleared them. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal wanted to auction 26 sand mines. They said, give us environment clearance and only then can we bid properly. The Environment ministry said they could not give clearances without the owner’s name. But the owner would only be decided through auction. I asked them whether they gave environmental clearance to the site or the owner. If it is about the site, you give them a letter stating that this site is environmentally okay. Once they give the owner’s name, give clearance within a month. These are very simple things.
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Shobhana Subramanian: Since you have taken over, how many projects have you cleared?
I have not calculated. Our government’s slogan is simple — development and protection of the environment should go together.
Ravish tiwari: What are your views on GM crops?
Many of the issues are in the courts. The GM issue will be discussed soon.
Coomi Kapoor: What is your view on the IB report which suggests that some NGOs have made environmental protests after receiving dubious funds?
I really don’t know because I am I&B, not IB.
Coomi Kapoor: But your ministry is involved.
My ministry is not involved. The news I read in The Indian Express was about the involvement of foreign funding in some NGOs. There are always two sides to a story. There are NGOs who are working for the public. There are also some with a negative agenda.
Raghvendra Rao: Your predecessor had said there was no need to have an I&B ministry. The day you took over, you said that it’s very difficult to build institutions and very easy to demolish them. But subsequently, you have also been quoted as endorsing Manish Tewari’s views.
What I said was that many countries don’t have this ministry. But we are also the custodians of people’s interest. You cannot allow monopolists to be created. You can’t allow the reader to be exploited. Hence, you need some mechanism. It’s best if the mechanism of self-regulation comes from within the industry. In fact, I don’t like the word regulation. I am going to Kerala. I will give an approval letter to a TV channel. The approval was held up because some official said that the founder-promoter’s father was an RSS man. This was the reason for rejecting permission. This is absolutely shocking.
Rishi Raj : Have you looked at the issue of the mining industry? Particularly iron ore mining, because most of the excess mining happened because environmental clearances were delayed. This is specifically regarding Vedanta’s Niyamgiri project.
We are not going into private projects as of now. They are important. But first let’s do defence and public sector projects that have been held up, like national highway projects. We will have a meeting with the Mines and Steel minister soon. We have done away with EGoMs and have a flexible mechanism. We will soon hold a meeting between Power, Renewable Energy, Coal and Environment ministries.
Shobhana Subramanian: What is the agenda for the meeting?
Pending projects. Many projects are just awaiting the last signature. If everything is okay, we will go ahead. If there is something more to be discussed, we will discuss.
Shubhra Gupta: Today, everyone with a smartphone is a mini I&B ministry. How can you keep the ministry abreast of the times? And what do you think of censorship?
As far as cinema is concerned, we have a regulatory mechanism of certification and censorship. As far as TV and broadcasting is concerned, they have their own mechanism. The mobile phone is a new area, which we all must think about. But that is covered under the IT Act, it doesn’t come under the I&B ministry.
Rajkumar Ray: Even after online processes and fixed timelines, getting clearances remains a time consuming process. Are you thinking of amendments to the forest law?
Bringing in amendments should not stem out of court decisions. It should be a continuous process where you make laws and rules in tune with the need of the country and the need of the hour.
Sanjay G: There was a report some time back on how India defines its forest cover. Some of the agricultural land is also defined as forest cover.
This is not the issue. We have increased the forest cover. But there are two issues that need to be addressed immediately — forest cover target of 33 per cent has to be achieved and the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) fund is not being used because of legal issues. Nearly
Rs 25,000 crore is lying in the government kitty for afforestation. This belongs to the states, but has not gone to the states due to legal battles.
Archna Shukla: What is your view on Prasar Bharati autonomy? Ever since your government has taken over, increasingly, from being a public broadcaster, it is turning into a state broadcaster.
No, this hasn’t happened. Why was the issue of autonomy raised? Because at that time, there was only one media. Now, there is private media and therefore, it’s only a government media. There are various models of public broadcasters in various countries. We are studying them and we will come out with a solution where aspirations of people, freedom of institution, and autonomy are maintained, and it also becomes effective. If your viewership is going down, what is the use of autonomy? You are autonomous, but dead.
Archna Shukla: But shouldn’t that be left to the Prasar Bharati? They have a CEO, a Board, they can decide.
We are consulting knowledgeable people like you.
Rishi Raj: The Road minister has said that the per day target is 25 km. Earlier, major companies had backed out of projects due to delays in environment clearance.
National highways are our priority. If they are as per norms, the clearances will definitely be given.
Anubhuti Vishnoi: Is there any clarity or resolution regarding the issue of Western Ghats?
A study was done through satellite images. We will consult all the stakeholders. We want to be proactive on environment as well as development. It is not one versus the other. It is both together.
Anubhuti Vishnoi: The Clean Ganga mission is a priority area for your government. Have you had consultations with other stakeholder ministries?
Let us understand that European and American rivers were also very dirty. They made a mission and improved the quality of water. We can also do that. But it can’t be a city-centric approach. You can’t clean the river in parts. Nitin Gadkari, Uma Bharti and I are sorting out the issue. All our secretaries are jointly working on this everyday.
Coomi Kapoor: Some people in your party have protested against sexually explicit scenes on TV. Do you plan to do something about this?
We can take action according to the law. In the earlier regime too, four channels were taken off. But I rely more on the self-regulation mechanism.
Anushree bhattacharyya: At the CII CEO meeting, you spoke of phase three and four of digitisation and how your ministry plans to identify companies who are ready with plans for manufacturing set-top boxes.
Digitisation of four crore TV sets is over and all those set-top boxes have come from China, Korea, Hong Kong or some other country. We have a market of 20 crore TV sets. Why can’t we augment our manufacturing abilities? We are calling a meeting of manufacturers. We want indigenisation.
Archna Shukla: What is your view on FDI in media?
Hundred per cent FDI is allowed in entertainment. As far as news is concerned, it is 26 per cent. We want to listen to all the views on this. Only then can we arrive at a decision. We are not in a hurry, we want to take everyone on board.
Raghvendra Rao: UPA II spent nearly Rs 420 crore on the Bharat Nirman campaign. Do you think such an expenditure is justified? What will be your government’s approach to publicity?
I will see to it that this doesn’t happen. We can communicate with people through various ways. Yes, it is the government’s role to make people aware of new guidelines and issues. The polio campaign was very effective. We should have more such campaigns. We have discussed with the DAVP and we will make it more cost effective.
Ravish Tiwari: You are also handling Parliamentary Affairs and in a few days, you will be busy with the Rajya Sabha. This is where you will face a tough task because you are in a minority. What are you planning to circumvent that challenge?
Taking cue from the result and in the interest of the nation, people from many parties have offered support to proposals that the government wants to bring in. Also, we want to reach out to everybody. We are not creating a feeling of enmity and not because we are in minority, but because we believe in democratic practices. I am confident that we can have effective dialogues to ensure smooth functioning of the Rajya Sabha. The first test will be the Budget session and you will see that everything is okay.
Ravish Tiwari: With the numbers that you have in the LS and RS, how confident are you of pushing through financial reform Bills?
We are confident of getting it passed in both the Houses.
Ravish Tiwari: You recently lost a big leader from your home state, Maharashtra. What is the way ahead? There is going to be a tussle again between the Shiv Sena and the BJP on who will be the chief ministerial candidate.
Gopinath Munde’s death was a big loss for us. Maharashtra is in a state of shock. But you have to move ahead. We have very capable leaders and we are supporting them. Who will be the CM is a small issue. We will arrive at a decision regarding this.
Tekchand Sonawane: Before the Lok Sabha elections, you pitched Narendra Modi as the PM candidate. Will you do the same thing in Maharashtra elections?
The strategy is different in a state. Sometimes we declare a chief ministerial candidate, sometimes we don’t.
Raghvendra Rao: Your ministry has set up a special cell for social media use among ministers. How are the ministers reacting to it?
I was thrilled to see my young team working in the new social media hub. We have offered it to all the ministers so that they can use these platforms. Some will want to use it more, some will use it less. We are ready to help them by making their website attractive, helping them on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter. Twelve ministers have written to me saying that they welcome the move and are appointing nodal officers for this.
Sagarika Ranjan: In states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Chhattisgarh, hundreds of environmental projects have been stuck for years due to Naxal threats. How do you plan to go about that?
I have worked with the tribals. I was with the Bank of Maharashtra and I revived a project for tribals in Thane district. It is a myth that tribals are not interested in development. They have aspirations too. The Maoists think that if progress happens in these areas, they will be doomed and so they do not allow school buildings, public utilities to be constructed. Development and law enforcement need to be taken up simultaneously. We are taking decisions regarding environmental clearances in Left-wing extremist areas across states.
Raghvendra Rao: What’s your take on governors appointed by UPA digging their heels in?
That is what I want to ask you. I don’t want to politicise the issue. But look at the media’s reaction on the governors issue today and what the media had said in 2004. They were asking us why governors are not resigning. In 2004, they made it known through a press conference that all had been removed. And then, they (UPA) administered oath to the new governor when the old one was already there. If this was tolerated then, my question to the media is, how can they change their stand in 2014. We will follow the Constitution, and they should follow conscience. It is not about law, we are appealing.
Transcribed by Shalini Narayan & Dipankar Ghose