Saying no to London-based industrialist Anil Agarwal's Vedanta group's bauxite mining project in Orissa is the latest of his headline-hogging decisions that has firmed up his reputation as a no-nonsense minister-cum-crusader.
In barely 14 months as environment minister, the suave 56-year-old technocrat-turned-politician has pitchforked a low-key ministry into front-page headlines.
Be it mega projects like Vedanta and Posco, the Navi Mumbai airport, GM foods or tortuous climate change negotiations, Ramesh, India's chief climate change negotiator, has an uncanny ability to be in the limelight.
The list of his detractors is long and he is often described as a 'wrestler'. Many of his colleagues gripe about his arrogance, but if it is a green cause, he does not mind driving the powerful and the wealthy red with rage.
Not that the man who sports white khadi churidar and kurta is always right. His criticism of Home Minister P. Chidamabaram for being tough on China's telecom operators did not go down well with the Congress party and even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pulled him up.
But it is this tenacity and forthrightness that has also earned him praise. Historian and writer Ramachandra Guha has described Ramesh as 'a true environment minister'.
'Intellectually speaking, the present incumbent, Jairam Ramesh, is a considerable improvement on Maneka Gandhi, and on all others who have held the post since 1980,' wrote Guha in an article.
A mechanical engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology-Mumbai and an alumnus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ramesh has performed multiple roles that include a brief assignment at the World Bank in 1978, two stints as an adviser in the Planning Commission, an officer on special duty during the National Front administration of the V.P. Singh government and as an official in the finance ministry headed by Manmohan Singh in the 1990s.
In recent years, he has emerged as a favourite intellectual of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and is said to be closely involved with mentoring Rahul Gandhi. In the first United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, he was minister of state for commerce and industry and minister of state for power.
But his big break came when the UPA was re-elected in May last year and he was given independent charge of the environment ministry.
Those who dismissed it as a lightweight ministry are ruing it now. Within months of taking charge, Ramesh was making headlines when he discarded the idea of the inter-linking of rivers in October 2009.
His visit to Bhopal in September last year put the spotlight on the toxic waste lying there since the 1984 Union Carbide plant gas leak. Later in April 2010, he announced the setting up of the first National Green Tribunal in Bhopal.
The formal rejection of Vedanta group's bauxite mining project in Orissa is his latest 'principled act' that has earned him gratitude of environmentalists.
Whatever critics may say, Ramesh, say insiders, is just the kind of environment minister India needed when climate change has climbed to the top of the global agenda.
Well Done Jairam Ramesh: India's Crusading Green Minister - Naresh Kadyan
Tuesday August 24, 2010, 6:38 pm
New Delhi, August 24
In a significant decision that may affect the future of similar projects in the country, the Centre on Tuesday struck down the multi-crore Vedanta mining project in Orissa citing serious environment and tribal rights’ violations.
While the forest clearance for the bauxite mining project in Niyamgiri Hills has been cancelled, the government is also planning a penal action against Vedanta. It may slap a show-cause notice on the firm for illegal mining.
The decision has earned the government bouquets from the green lobby and activists fighting for tribal rights. Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) chief Sunita Narain while welcoming the Environment Ministry’s move said: “The ease with which Vedanta has been violating all laws is appalling. This is certainly a decision which goes in favour of the poor and marginalised sections of Orissa.”
The rejection of environment clearance to the project came after the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) submitted its report to Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh after reviewing the NC Saxena panel findings.
Accepting the recommendation of FAC, Ramesh said Vedanta had violated laws and the Niyamgiri Hills project could not be given the go ahead unless the Forest Act was complied with.
He said the stage II forest clearance for the state-owned Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) and sterlite bauxite mining project on the Niyamgiri Hills in Lanjigarh, Kalahandi and Rayagadha districts of the state could not be granted following serious violation of the Environment Protection Act, besides Forest Conservation and Forest Rights Acts.
Ramesh said a show-cause notice would be issued to the company for illegally increasing its alumina refinery’s (Lanjigarh) capacity from one million tonne to six million tonne.
Coming down heavily on the Vedanta project promoted by UK-based billionaire Anil Agarwal, the Saxena committee said the project endangered nearly 7,500 sq km of forest land and violated tribal forest rights in Niyamgiri Hills. It cited many violations of environment clearance given to the OMC, including non-compliance with provisions of the Forest Rights Act.
The panel even said that the consent certificate of the gram sabha was fake, thereby; depicting how big corporate companies were blatantly violating forest and environment laws in collusion with state officials and politicians. Extremely critical of the Orissa government, the committee said: “State officials colluded with the company to allow blatant and widespread violations of forest and environmental laws.”
Vedanta had contended that the Environment Ministry had given in-principle approval to its project in 2007.
The project was approved by the Supreme Court in August 2008, but the court left the final decision up to the government. Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Monday met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Ramesh to discuss the controversial deal.
“ I hope it is not politics,” Patniak said. Ramesh, however, denied allegations of prejudice against the state government or Vedanta.
Making it clear that his ministry was not getting into any “witch-hunt”, Ramesh said there was no politics or prejudice involved in the Vedanta’s case and the decision was based on the Saxena panel report, Auditor General’s (AG) report and FAC recommendations.
He said there was no prejudice against the BJD-government in Orissa as his ministry has cleared an important irrigation project in the state for which in-principle approval was accorded yesterday.
The Man: High-school dropout Anil Agarwal, 56, cycled to the municipal school. He did not know a word of English when he started his business. The spiritually-inclined business magnet now cycles in Hyde Park at London’s posh Mayfair area!
His business: Anil started as a metal scrap dealer. Agarwal has taken his company to list on the London Stock Exchange.
The issue: Vedanta consistently violated several laws in bauxite mining at Niyamgiri, encroached upon government land, got clearances on the basis of false information.
Protect Communities From
Bitumen Smoke and Stone
Dust Ash - Sukanya Kadyan
Protect Communities From
Bitumen Smoke and Stone
Dust Ash - Sukanya Kadyan
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