After holding up several high-profile development projects through 2010, environment minister Jairam Ramesh has, in just the single month of January 2011, cleared eight of them, including a mining project in a forest region his own ministry had earlier demarcated as a ‘no-go’ region.
Ramesh’s metamorphosis comes following repeated rebukes from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, publicly and privately, telling him that his environmentalist overdrive was adversely affecting development.
While his clearance of Posco’s Orissa project made headlines, Ramesh has also quietly okayed coal mining in a ‘no-go’ area in the same state, to provide the coal for a 4,000 MW Ultra Mega Power Plant at nearby Talchar. “Half of the mining area for which approval has been granted falls in a ‘no-go’ zone,” a government official said, claiming it was the first project approved in a ‘no-go’ area.
"We have adopted a transparent and balanced approach while clearing the projects. There is nothing unusual,” Ramesh told HT.
In January, Ramesh also cleared the Lavasa Lake City Project near Pune, which his ministry had stalled earlier, after imposing additional conditions. He has also conveyed ‘in principle’ approval — though the official sanction is awaited —for a ropeway project in the Girnair wildlife sanctuary in Gujarat, which had been held up for over two years following protests by wildlife experts.
"The rope-way if constructed will lead to the local extinction of the already endangered long-billed vultures," says a dissent note by two members of the standing committee of the National Wildlife Board, Divyabhanusinh Chavda and Nita Shah.
"Various alternatives are being considered," Ramesh told HT while discussing the ropeway project.
Yet another project okayed has been the Subarnarekha Multi Purpose Irrigation Project in Jharkhand, held up for over a decade following concerns expressed by conservationists. Ramesh has also agreed to approve a coal mining project in the Mahanadhi zone in Orissa, and another in Jharkhand.