Controversial environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh sprang a surprise on Friday, admitting that he had cleared projects violating green norms under pressure and regretted the decisions.
"There is always pressure to clear. Sometimes it is natural pressure for development and sometimes otherwise," the minister told HT ."There are some occasions when I have not compromised. On some occasions, I had to compromise."
Hours before speaking to HT, Ramesh gave a conditional clearance to the 400MW Maheshwar Dam project on the Narmada River in Madhya Pradesh following directions from the Prime Minister's Office despite tardy relief and rehabilitation work.
People from only one of the nine villages to be submerged have been relocated so far.
"I have no option but to agree to lifting the stop-work order on the construction of last five spillway gates," Ramesh said in the order granting approval to the dam project.
The minister's order referred to meetings at the PMO and calls he received from union power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, asking him to clear the project.
Soon after the approval for the dam project was granted, NGO Narmada Bachao Andolan issued a statement accusing Ramesh of buckling under pressure.
"We have to say that he (Ramesh) is violating statutory conditions on dictation from above. It is shocking and shameful and is an open comment on the crony nature of the current governance in India," said Medha Patkar of the NBA.
Ramesh told HT that he had to refuse to take back environmental clearances to projects such as the Tatas' Damra port in Orissa and power plants in some states, knowing full well that green norms had been violated.
These projects were cleared before he took charge of the ministry and was asked to review the clearances.
"Unfortunately many times I am forced to regularise. Because I have no option, because a refinery or a steel plant is built," the minister said, adding that he was against regularising illegality.
Only in one case, Mumbai's Adarsh Housing Society, did the minister refuse to condone illegalities and ordered demolition of the 31-storey building in the posh Colaba area.