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Sonia adviser angers minister

delhi Updated: Aug 22, 2010 00:18 IST
Chetan Chauhan

As a nationwide crackdown on environmental violations widens, Tribal Affairs Minister Kanti Lal Bhuria is the latest in a growing list of colleagues to be pitted against Union MoS for Environment Jairam Ramesh's ministry.

The man evoking Bhuria's ire is N.C. Saxena, a member of the powerful National Advisory Council (NAC). A confidant of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Saxena is stepping on many toes as he heads several panels probing adherence to environment, forest and tribal-rights laws.

Bhuria's objections: Saxena's prescriptions for better governance to local officials as

the former bureaucrat visits Maoist-hit states, heading a joint committee (created in March) of the environment and tribal affairs ministries on the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, which safeguards tribals living off forest produce.

"The committee during its visits to states is not expected to suggest how the Act is to be implemented,” said Bhuria, a Congressman from Madhya Pradesh, in a letter to Ramesh. "Nor is it expected to make

reference to the ministry as to the instructions that the ministry should communicate to state governments regarding the implementation of the Forest Rights Act.”

The comments against Saxena are a manifestation of the resentment various ministries and ministers feel as Ramesh attempts to enforce India's long-ignored environment, forest and tribal-rights laws "in letter and spirit", as one expert put it, on Gandhi's instructions with the backing of the Prime Minister.

Saxena, who also gave a critique of the Tribal Affairs Ministry to the NAC, believes the forest act's prime objective of granting community rights hasn't been fulfilled. Only 20,000 of 1 lakh villages in tribal areas have been granted such rights.

These failures are directly implicated for the spread of Maoist insurgency across nine states. India has about 100 million tribals with development indices below national average.

A source close to Bhuria said he was "livid" that Saxena was telling state officials how to implement the Act. During his tours of Maoist areas last month, Saxena observed widespread violations. Many officials, much less the tribals, did not even understand the complex Hindi the Act uses.

"Therefore, many provisions are just not being implemented," said a committee member.

Saxena responded, in a letter to Ramesh, saying no state objected to his work.

The environment ministry stood by Saxena and reminded Bhuria that the mandate of Saxena's committee was changed in April 2010, allowing simultaneous reviews for better implementation.

Saxena headed two other committees, which cited forest law violations and asked Ramesh's ministry to stop land acquisition for the R54,000-cr Posco steel plant in Orissa and refuse a mining lease for a bauxite mine for Vedanta's aluminum refinery in the same state.