State Transport minister Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil seems to have a penchant for controversies.
Following the oil spill off the Mumbai coast on August 7, Vikhe-Patil mooted a proposal to merge the environment department with the transport and ports departments, which are under his purview. Congress minister Suresh Shetty currently heads the environment department.
The Transport department had moved a note last month saying that the departments were closely aligned as was highlighted during the oil spill incident. “There was an official discussion on whether environment [department] should be merged under transport and ports because they are closely linked. When we are drafting the ports policy or transport projects, environmental aspects have to be considered,” said Vikhe-Patil.
The note had raised hackles of the environment department.
“This cannot be proposed by any minister and discussed at Cabinet level. Only the chief minister and Congress party can take a call on this,” said Shetty, refusing further comment.
Vikhe-Patil said his department was not pursuing the matter. “It was considered, but there are too many angles to this. We are not deliberating on this now,” he added. It is learnt that Vikhe Patil had to backtrack following intervention by Chief Minister Ashok Chavan.
Sources in the state secretariat said the environment department had assumed importance in the last couple of years on various infrastructure projects. “The department has a say on all infrastructure, power projects and it is a sought-after department despite poor funding. But, it cannot be merged with any other department,’’ said a senior official, on condition of anonymity.
Earlier there was a bid to merge the environment and forest departments like at the Centre. Chief Secretary JP Dange was keen on this merger.