Prakash Javadekar’s exit as the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting and the chief spokesperson for the government comes at a time when its handling of the second Covid-19 wave has come under intense scrutiny and drawn flak from the Opposition.
If the start of the lockdown last year following the outbreak of the pandemic led to the migrant crisis, the deadly second Covid-19 wave this March-April saw hospitals running short of medical oxygen and beds, and ships and aircraft being sent out to bring home oxygen supplies – images which accentuated the lack of preparedness.
With questions being raised and the government’s handling of the second wave coming under scrutiny, it fell on the I&B Ministry to blunt criticism, including in the international media, though it had no role in dealing with the situation on the ground.
After Javadekar’s resignation Wednesday, several in official circles said the Ministry probably couldn’t live up to the damage-control expectations.
He also came under the spotlight after the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) brought in amendments to the Information Technology rules in February this year – content of OTT (over-the-top) platforms and digital news portals have come under I&B purview.
Multiple legal challenges have been filed across the country by media groups and bodies against the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, notified on February 25. The petitioners say these rules constitute a threat to free speech.
As Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Javadekar took credit for increased forest cover – according to the Ministry, forest cover increased by 15,000 sq km – and distribution of CAMPA (Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority) funds to states for afforestation, and increase in the population of tigers, lions, leopards etc.
He was criticised by environmentalists last year after the draft of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020 was published.
They claimed that the draft diluted environmental protection norms and categories of development, construction and infrastructure projects which would no longer require any environmental impact assessment.
Many such projects, they said, had also been made exempt from public consultation, a mandatory provision earlier. The Ministry received 17 lakh objections and suggestions on the draft.
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