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Jayanthi Natarajan sat on 350 files that had clearances

Author: Vishwa Mohan,TNN
Publication:  The Times of India
Date:  January 31, 2015
URL:   http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Jayanthi-Natarajan-sat-on-350-files-that-had-clearances/articleshow/46071845.cms?prtpage=1

Issue of green clearance was indeed a major irritant during Jayanthi Natarajan's tenure (2011-13) as environment minister, not only for private industries but also for public projects and defence infrastructure.

 No one would have probably complained had it been for adhering to green laws and procedures. If one looks at the 350-odd files Natarajan and her office sat over at the time of her resignation in December, 2013, it may be clear that the files mainly related to those projects which had approval of expert appraisal committees.

 And by the time the Congress leadership realized implications of keeping projects pending, it was too late. Still, her successor M Veerappa Moily could manage to clear projects worth over Rs 1.5 lakh crore before the model code of conduct for 2014 general elections came into force in early March.

The key approvals given by him included one on the South Korean steel giant Posco's Rs 52,000 crore steel plant in Odisha. It ended eight years of wait for a project that would involve the largest ever foreign direct investment in India.

 The government had then got it done by putting a condition for clearance on Posco where the company would have to spend on "social commitments" and delink the plant from its port project. It raised the project cost but the company readily agreed for it.

"If the government had got it done in January, 2014 by making certain rooms for it through conditions, it could have easily done it before. It shows the project got stuck because the government of the day might have opted for it," said an official who was involved in the process.

 Posco was not the lone example. Moily quickly approved many projects within the first 30 days of taking additional charge of the ministry in December, 2013.

 Many big-ticket projects worth over Rs 10 lakh crore had got stuck due to non-clearance on one pretext or the other during Natarajan's tenure. She had, in fact, inherited many of the pending files from her predecessor Jairam Ramesh.

 The pendency during the period showed how the 'environmental clearance' issue (green tape) during the UPA regime had become a tool to stall projects by virtually replacing the 'Licence Permit Raj' (red tape regime) of the pre-1990s era.

 Vedanta project of bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hills in Odisha also showed how it was stalled under Jairam Ramesh's tenure to fulfill the promise of Rahul Gandhi to the local tribals. The permission was, however, formally denied during Natarajan's tenure under the Supreme Court's order which was later flagged by Gandhi as a trophy in political rallies in the state.

 Moily tried to undone many things which were done during Natarajan's and Ramesh's tenures. Obviously, he had a mandate for it from the top, signaling a major shift in the Congress Party's stand from pro-environment to pro-industries barely three months before the 2014 parliamentary election.

 Surprisingly, the list of stalled projects also included defence projects that were crucial from the security point of view. The ministry under the NDA government cleared all those projects that had already got nod from the expert committees under the UPA regime but remained stuck.

The new government has also taken a number of measures to streamline the green clearance process. Launch of online system for both environment and forest clearances under the NDA government not only brings transparency but also speeds up clearance process within the existing law.
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