(New Indian Express Article)
Tags : Jairam Ramesh, Manmohan Singh, Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs
Posted: Friday , Mar 26, 2010 at 0259 hrs
In a direct snub to Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday constituted a five-member ministerial committee that will review and clear pending infrastructure projects that were stuck because of the Environment Ministry’s insistence that they lacked appropriate clearances.
Sources said the Group of Ministers (GoM) — comprising Steel Minister Virbhadra Singh, Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, Planning Commission Vice-Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal and Ramesh — was constituted following a discussion in the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs in which Ramesh attempted to justify the defiant stand of his ministry.
After listening to his detailed presentation, the Prime Minister said he was setting up the committee to ensure that all pending projects stalled by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) were put on the fast-track. A majority of the pending projects relate to iron ore and coal mining clearances as well as power project approvals.
Ramesh, who had come to the meeting armed with maps and drawings, even suggested that his ministry be made part of sanctioning committees to avoid a situation where developmental projects get stuck because of lack of environmental clearances. The minister seized upon the opportunity to present his case during a discussion on a status paper on the coal sector presented by Jaiswal.
Last week, Surface Transport Minister Kamal Nath wrote to the Prime Minister accusing Ramesh of blocking key highway projects by refusing environmental clearances. Detailing several road projects that were pending approval, Nath sought the Prime Minister’s intervention in the matter. Nath, however, was not present at Thursday’s Cabinet meeting.
Power Minister Shinde and Water Resources Minister Pawan Bansal were among other ministers who were upset by Ramesh’s move to stall a number of important projects, some of them pending for over a year. An earlier decision by Ramesh to block expansion of a port in Karnataka has also not gone down well with a senior Cabinet minister from the state. A number of states too have found themselves at the mercy of his ministry. For instance, Goa had sought environmental clearances for several mining projects. However, the MoEF recently issued a circular imposing a moratorium on the issue until Goa finalised its mineral policy and sent a formal intimation to the Centre.
At the CCEA meeting, though, Ramesh seemed unrelenting as he argued his case. Citing the example of the coal sector, Ramesh told the meeting that indiscriminate mining was being done on forest land. According to sources, he said environmental clearances could not be given for mining in forest region that were designated core areas without any exceptions. The MoEF, he said, had identified “go” areas and “no go” areas where mining could not be done.
The minister contended that his ministry was only taking steps to protect the country’s ecological security. The Prime Minister’s final decision, however, indicated that he did not want hurdles in the way of developmental projects.