Bahar Dutt’s opinion that environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan’s performance in the last one year has left much to be desired is a personal view, and one she is entitled to hold (It’s time to act tough, July 23). However, it is demonstrably a subjective assessment and based on factual inaccuracies and wrong assumptions.
Dutt has referred specifically to two projects. She talks about the “800 MW Alakananda hydro electric project being constructed on the main tributary of the Ganga, by the private company GVK, and claims that “her own ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) advised her to reject it, as also the Wildlife Institute of India”. Clearly, Dutt has little idea about the facts of the project because it received both environment (on May 3, 1985) as well as forest clearances before Natarajan became the environment minister. Far from being operational now, Natarajan has already issued a stop work order on this project and it has been in abeyance from the date she took over. The matter is sub judice, both in the Supreme Court as well as the National Green Tribunal and the ministry of environment and forests has filed affidavits in the court, arguing that the abeyance orders should be continued.
The issue regarding the GVK project has no connection whatsoever to wildlife, but relates to the environmental flows of the Ganga and to the sensitive question of the possible submergence of the Dharidevi temple. The minister has now directed that these issues should be studied by a multi-disciplinary committee appointed by the prime minister under the chairmanship of BK Chaturvedi. Dutt mentions the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve when it has no connection to the GVK project. No final decision has been taken by the ministry on any projects in the area.
The next reference is to the Lower Demwe project, which Dutt claims that the FAC had rejected. This is incorrect. The FAC has in fact recommended the project for clearance, and this is on record. It is incomprehensible how such wrong facts could be asserted with such authority by the writer. It was the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) and not the FAC that had reservations about the project, and the consideration of those reservations are a part of the record of the NBWL. It is sufficient to say that the ‘facts’ asserted by Dutt in her article are false and misleading.
The final assertion (as opposed to the writer’s subjective opinion) made is a direct quote from figures put out by the Centre for Science and Environment, soon after Natarajan assumed charge as minister. Dutt writes: “In 2011, the ministry granted environmental clearance to 181 coal mines, 267 thermal plants, 186 steel plants, and 106 cement units.” The facts that ought to be mentioned, but which the writer did not touch upon, are as follows. After Natarajan assumed charge of the ministry in July 2011, the status of clearances for 2011 is as follows: only three coal mines have been cleared of which two are public sector mines and the other was an expansion of the existing facility. Similarly, Dutt claims that in 2011, 267 thermal plants were given clearance, but neglects to mention that Natarajan gave clearances only to six thermal plants. Dutt says that 186 steel plants were given clearance but does not clarify that Natarajan gave clearance to only 17 steel plants. As for cement plants, Dutt writes that 106 cement plants were given clearance in 2011, but she did not clarify that Natarajan gave clearance to only six.
Any objective assessment of the minister’s performance should have been based upon correct and incontrovertible facts. There should have been clarity about the projects and the decisions taken. Unfortunately, the author has based her article on incorrect and subjective assumptions.
Finally, the fanciful assumption made by the writer, that the minister “has not said a firm no to a single project” is fundamentally flawed. The mandate of an environment minister is to protect the environment, and not to stand at the crossroads of history being a naysayer. The fundamental duty of an environment minister is to ensure that the nation’s environmental heritage and integrity are protected. Natarajan has fulfilled that mandate to the greatest possible extent.
(K Ghayathri Devi is officer on special duty to the minister for environment and forests. The views expressed by the author are personal.)
Bahar Dutt’s response to K Ghayathri Devi's article:
This is in reference to K Ghayathri Devi's response to my article on her boss Ms Jayanthi Natarajan. Ms Devi has accused me of getting my facts wrong.
It may be pointed out that the dam which was cleared by Ms Natarajan despite the FAC saying no is Alaknanda Hydropower project near Badrinath. The dam was given forest clearance on 8th November, 2011, by Ms Natarajan and is in a prime wildlife habitat .
The dam being referred to by Ms Devi which is in court, is Alaknanda Hydropower project of 330 MW near Srinagar Town. So let's get our geography correct to start with.
Secondly to accuse me of getting my facts wrong, is still indulging in shadow boxing. Ms Devi herself admits that Ms Natarajan has cleared the Lower Demwe dam in a habitat that was crucial for wildlife.
Whether she did it in defiance of the FAC or the National Board of Wildlife is immaterial. Fact is the minister is admitting that she cleared Lower Demwe inspite of her own expert committees advising her not to.
Please note a dam which will impact endangered wildlife. That is a sad admission indeed for a minister who is supposed to be the protector of biodiversity. I rest my case.
Click here to read Bahar Dutt's earlier post: It's time to act tough