Former minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh is being blamed for the slide in India’s industrial output by halting more than 60 large projects and holding up another 450 projects. During his tenure, the ministry was enmeshed in various controversies. His “uncalled for” remarks on certain issues, including those on IIMs, drew flak from all quarters. Mr Ramesh is now being replaced by former Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan while he has been moved out to the rural development ministry.
Both the coal and power ministries in their internecine public spats with the environment ministry repeatedly held Mr Ramesh responsible for their downward revision of production targets since he had a knack of delaying approvals by citing green norms. In fact, the coal production slide in the first four years of the Eleventh Plan from a target of 9.2 per cent to 6.2 per cent and declining power generation figures, which were only 63 per cent of their target, are also blamed on him.
The slanging match between him and other ministries was something that continued throughout his tenure, leading him once to go public and state that he had “no friends in the Cabinet”, implying that he remained in the ministry because of his closeness to both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi.
Free to comment on a wide variety of subjects, Mr Ramesh’s most quotable quote remains “Our cities are the dirtiest cities of the world. If there is a Nobel Prize for dirt and filth, India will win it hands down.” The comment generated so much publicity that many of his critics described him as suffering from “foot-in-mouth” disease. He shot off comments, whether they related to describing the wearing of gowns at convocations as a “barbaric colonial practice”, or later, when he described India’s premier IITs and IIMs as not being “world class”.
Mr Ramesh’s major limitation, however, was that his attempt to project himself as being a “green” minister did not match success on the ground. He took a strong stand against Posco only to reverse his decision at a later point. The story was the same with Lavasa. He was also criticised for giving the go-ahead to the new
Mumbai airport and the nuclear power station in Jaitapur, Maharashtra.
The story repeated itself during the climate talks in Cancun, when Mr Ramesh went to the extent of suggesting that India was willing to reverse its earlier stand and accept binding cuts in carbon emissions by the industrialised nations. He later retracted and claimed India would not accept legally binding emission cuts.
Bt brinjal helped propel him to the centre of the raging environment debate. His national consultations allowed the public to vent their ire against the introduction of GM crops. Denial of permission for commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal saw the green brigade begin to see him as a messiah who would save India’s diminishing forests, polluted rivers and other ecological hot spots. Asian Age