Numbers reveal Ramesh ‘talks green, but acts brown’
Environment minister Jairam Ramesh's environmental activism is restricted to a few big ticket projects as approval rate of the ministry has not changed, analysis of the environmental approvals given during the minister's tenure has revealed.
The ministry's own information provided under the Right To Information (RTI) Act shows that between August 2009 and July 2010 as many as 535 projects of the total 769 were approved.
Only six were rejected and remaining were under consideration at the time of providing the information.
"It is clear that the ministry continues to have an unhealthy rate of approval," said Ritwik Datta, who represents Environment Impact Assessment Resource and Response Centre.
The data shows that the approval rate of the ministry during Ramesh's tenure has not changed as compared to A Raja, who was environment minister between 2004-2007.
"No wonder that many believe that the ministry talks green but continues with its brown agenda," he said.
Ramesh has hit headlines by targeting big-ticket projects such as Lavasa Lake City Project near Pune and Vedanta Resources Aluminum refinery and Posco's Steel Plant in Orissa.
"Bulk of the problem is the legacy issue. New investments are more environment compliant," the minister explained, while addressing representatives of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in Delhi this week.
The data also shows that criticism of Ramesh over his go-no go policy for coal mining by the coal minister Shriprakash Jaiswal may not be totally ill-founded.
Of the 58 projects considered by the Expert Appraisal Committee, only 31 were approved although none were rejected.
"In many project environment impact of them is being studied," a ministry official said.
And, there was no discrimination between the projects in coal and non-coal sector. Of the 146 projects considered in the non-coal sector, three were rejected and 71 approved.
Another area of confrontation for Ramesh with fellow ministers -- River Valley Hydro projects -- has 100% approval rate.
Of the eight projects considered all were approved. It included Polavaram Dam project in Andhra Project, which is now being opposed by both Chhattisgarh and Orissa.
What is worse that since October 2010, there is no grievance redressal mechanism for people against the approvals given by the ministry.
The National Environment Appellate Authority has been shut, as National Green Tribunal has been set up.
The tribunal is not functional as none of its members except chairperson Justice Lokeshwar Panta have been appointed and rules framed to make the commission work.
"We expect to notify the rules and appoint new members by middle of February," a ministry official said.
The ministry has also failed Ramesh over transparency in clearances.
The information under sought under the transparency law Right To Information Act mostly remained unheeded.
HT had filed an application and a subsequent appeal but the ministry is yet to respond.
Same has been the case with Himanshu Thakkar of an anti-dam NGO.