Days before she was asked to quit the union cabinet,Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan kicked up a storm by rejecting a consensus position allowing field trials of Genetically Modified (GM) crops arrived at by stakeholder ministries,the cabinet secretary and the Prime Ministers Office.
With the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) under the aegis of the Supreme Court recommending an indefinite ban on GM field trials in October 2012 and Natarajan also putting on hold field trial clearances given by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) in March 2013,alarm bells had rung across the scientific community and ministries concerned.
The PMO,keen that arms of the government did not talk in different voices on the issue,tasked the cabinet secretary with hammering out a consensus between the Departments of Science and Technology,Biotechnology,and Agriculture so that a common affidavit could be filed in the apex court on the issue. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar,too,wrote to the Prime Minister underlining the need for this affidavit.
The affidavit was finalised after several rounds of deliberations attended by representatives of all stakeholder ministries including the secretary,Environment,V Rajagopalan. Sources said Rajagopalan also agreed to field trials with certain preconditions.
But even though her secretary agreed to this consensus document,Natarajan decided to disassociate herself from the exercise,making it difficult for the government to go ahead. Result: the government missed its goal of filing the affidavit on December 16 the case has now been rescheduled for next year.
When contacted,Natarajan declined to comment. It is learnt that the minister had cited the standing committees objections,the TECs recommendations and states reservations to block the affidavit. She is also said to have asked for more meetings.
Natarajan disagreed with other arms of the government over other green clearances too. Only last week,sources said,Natarajan and Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily,who is now her successor,had a heated discussion at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI).
Three projects from Moilys ministry held up due to green clearances came up at the CCI meeting: the long pending Chennai Petroleum Corporation Limiteds (CPCL)s new crude oil pipeline project from Chennai port to Manali in Tamil Nadu,ONGCs gas project in Assam,and the LNG terminal in Mundra. While CPCL finally got the go-ahead,the environment ministry said it would take a view soon on the LNG terminal.
Natarajan is also said to have had differences of opinion with the cabinet secretariat over the appointments of the chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB),and the director-general,Forests. While the cabinet secretariat is said to have held interviews on December 9 for the CPCB job which is being handled by a senior environment ministry official,the National Green Tribunal suddenly stepped in the next day on a plea,and restrained the selection process until December 28.
Similarly,Natarajan and the cabinet secretariat which held interviews for the position of DG,Forests on December 6 disagreed on the choice. A final decision is yet to be taken,even though the incumbent retires this month-end.