The unusually calm Jayanthi Natarajan had an unexpected welcome at the environment ministry when representatives of NGOs dressed in animal colours offered her a bouquet and were carrying placards saying, “With love and hope. Welcome to our ministry. Animals of India.”
Natarajan, 57, and lawyer by profession, had nothing to announce unlike her predecessor Jairam Ramesh, who declared his environmental reform agenda on first day in office but faced a barrage of questions on Ramesh’s policy on go-no go for coal mining and his speaking orders.
But her simple and straight reply was: “No minister in UPA had been a roadblock to UPA. I think Jairam Ramesh did admirably well”. It had some truth as Ramesh approved 97% of the projects, unlike the popular perception that he was blocking projects. While so many projects were cleared the institutions such as Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) mandated to monitor these projects remained ineffective.
“I expect she will go for strengthening regulatory institutions and systems which is a cause of present environmental mess,” said Sunita Narain, Director General of NGO Centre for Science and Environment.
Two areas that could be on Natarajan’s agenda are people’s participation in forestry and better utilization of Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAMPA). She will have to work to strengthen National Green Tribunal, which has only one bench for entire India.
Environmental activists wanted Natarajan to slow down Ramesh’s pace and ponder before making decisions.
“Decide slowly, coolly and maturely,” was advice of Valmik Thapar, member of National Tiger Conservation Authority, to her.