Whimsical and arbitrary action or talk doesn’t behove a union minister
Prasanna Mohanty | May 27, 2011
It has now become a habit with the environment minister Jairam Ramesh to give headline grabbing bytes at regular intervals, even if it means mouthing inanities. The latest one from him about the IITs and IIMs is no better. He said the faculty of these institutions was not world class, did no worthwhile research but that its students were world class and so, these institutions were excellent because of the quality of their students, not the faculty or its research. It is no brainer to figure out that no institution can attain excellence or continue to remain so for decades without an excellent faculty. As for worthwhile research, it may be pointed out that this requires right environment and incentives which we don’t have. Our investment in research across the board is pathetically low and matches no developed country. Ramesh’s colleague Kapil Sibal has pointed out that the US spends $250 billion on research while India spends a mere $8 billion. But if Ramesh thinks he is brighter than the rest of us in figuring out something that others have missed then he should say what needs to be done and then persuade his government to do it. Idle prattle is not what is expected of a minister.
This apart, what he said next and in which context is really worrisome. He said his ministry was setting up a National Centre for Marine Biodiversity in Jamnagar in a joint venture with the Reliance Industries Limited (RIL). He went on to justify association with RIL saying that a world class research centre couldn’t be built in a ‘government set up’ because it would never attract young and talented people. It is well known that the marine biodiversity of Gujarat is facing a big threat because of several ports, power plants and SEZ that have come up along the coast, not to forget RIL’s own Jamnagar refinery, all of which Ramesh’s ministry cleared without proper environment impact assessment studies. His ministry is notorious for this. So much so that his ministry’s expert appraisal committee led by Prof C R Babu actually said pollution was good for Alphanso mangoes and cashew while giving a green signal to Jindal’s thermal power plants in neighbouring Maharashtra in 2009.
Involvement of RIL in the research project is bound to raise suspicion because of the apparent ‘conflict of interest’. Ramesh, however, chose to dismiss it by saying that life itself is “one long conflict of interests”. To expect a corporate body to do an honest job when its own interests are involved is foolhardy but to expect it to be world class and better than our IITs and IIMs, as Ramesh seems to suggest, is ridiculous. More so since it involves Ramesh’s own ministry. A few days ago, after giving clearance to Posco project in Orissa and Maheshwar hydel project in Madhya Pradesh despite glaring violations of environment and other laws and guidelines, which he himself admitted, Ramesh said he was sometimes “forced to make compromises”. Compromise surely is no qualification for excellence. His ministry officials have pointed out how RIL’s selection was not on the basis of bids or any other transparent process. What value would he be bestowing on the research centre is anybody’s guess. One would, in normal course, ignore BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy’s banter that we cannot have world institutions unless we have world class ministers. But in the present context he makes a very valid point.
As we have pointed out in a serious of articles in our previous issues, Ramesh needs to get his act together as the environment minister. Instead of sticking to the environment and forest laws and various guidelines he himself has issued from time to time, Ramesh has been arbitrary and whimsical in clearing projects. In the case of Posco and Maheshwar projects, he knowingly violated laws and constitutional mandate and gave the go ahead. This is contrary to the oath of office he took. Incidentally, our system doesn’t prosecute ministers for such transgressions. Otherwise, he would have been cooling his heels in some jail. It is not too late yet and our advice to him would be that he would serve the cause of the people and the environment better if he puts his own house in order. Life may be one long conflict of interests but that hardly justifies arbitrariness.
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