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Jayanthi Natarajan exits Congress; charges of stalling, delaying projects get credence

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar says will have to take a second look at Natarajan's decisions

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: January 31, 2015 12:48:05 pm
Jayanthi-Natarajan-l Jayanthi Natarajan was often blamed for stalling or delaying projects. Allegations of rent-seeking were also made. (Source: PTI photo)

Even as she confirms widely held suspicions that environmental clearances to projects have often been decided on grounds extraneous to the merits of the case, Jayanthi Natarajan has given credence to several questions that were raised over her own controversial tenure as environment minister.

As reported by The Indian Express a few days after she stepped down from office in December 2013, Natarajan, at the time of her resignation, had been sitting on about 280 files, many of which related to project clearances. What was curious was that nearly 70 of these files relating to approvals had been withheld at her residence despite she having signed on them several days earlier.

Not surprisingly, she was often blamed for stalling or delaying projects. Allegations of rent-seeking were also made, something that prompted Narendra Modi to coin the term ‘Jayanti-tax’ during the Lok Sabha election campaign last year.

In her November 2013 letter to Sonia Gandhi, which is at the centre of a political storm, Natarajan has written that she had to carry all this blame because she had honoured “specific requests” from Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and his office which, “used to be directives” for her.

Current Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said in Pune that Natarajan’s confession that her decisions had been influenced by her party bosses was a good enough reason to review all the decisions taken by her.

“What she has said raises a lot of concern. We will have to take a second look at her decisions,” he said.

Natarajan said she would be happy if the government reviews her decisions. “I welcome it. I would stand vindicated. It would prove me right,” she told The Indian Express.

She ruled out suggestions that her letter, written in November but made public on Friday, was an attempt to create a new political future for herself outside of the Congress party. “As I see it, my future, at least the immediate future, is not going to be political. I am not contemplating anything. Nothing political, at least.”

Natarajan had become the environment minister in July 2011, taking over from Jairam Ramesh who had acquired the reputation of an ‘activist’ minister and someone who was deciding on project clearances on ideological grounds.

Natarajan fared worse as far as the time taken on deciding on project approvals was concerned and even undid everything else that Ramesh had introduced in a bid to bring in transparency. She stopped the practice of passing ‘speaking orders’ — detailed explanations on why a decision had been taken — and of putting important and relevant documents in public domain. She was also criticised for spending most of her time in Chennai, away from her office.

Cases in the letter

Niyamgiri: A bauxite mining project of the Vendanta group in the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa. The project was denied clearance in January last year, some time after Jayanthi Natarajan left office

Nirma case: A cement factory and limestone mining project in the Bhavnagar district of Gujarat. Earlier, this month, the NGT set aside the cancellation of the environmental clearance and gave go ahead to the project.

Adani port project: India’s largest private port along the Gujarat coast was slapped with a Rs 200 crore fine by the Environment Ministry during Natarajan’s term for damaging creeks and mangroves. The project was cleared last year in July after the NDA government came to power.

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