Ramesh’s mea culpa: A sham

List of his illegal sanctions is a long one

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | May 9, 2011



Under pressure for permitting projects in violation of environment and forest laws, minister Jairam Ramesh played the victim the other day.

He said: “I am completely against regularising an illegality. But sometimes I am forced to. A steel plant has been built or a power project has been constructed… violations are detected afterwards. I cannot shut them down. Hundreds of crores (of rupees) are invested. There are livelihood issues.”

He also qualified it by saying: “A violation of law has to be prevented at the start. It is very difficult to correct it later. They become fait accompli and sometimes there is little option but to look for a compromise. I have had to make compromises on some projects.”

Sounds good as far as confessions go but Ramesh deceives here too.

Here is how.

Ramesh says a violation has to be prevented at the start. But he didn’t do so in the case of the Posco project. The project is yet to take off. Two teams he sent for enquiry said without any ambiguity that the forest rights had not been granted to the project-affected people. Yet, he cleared it for the “third” time on May 2.

His defence was: (a) “Faith and trust in what the state government says is an essential pillar of cooperative federalism”, (b) that “it was at my personal insistence that in August 2009, the ministry of environment and forests made adherence to the Forest Rights Act, 2006 an essential pre-requisite for allowing diversion of forest land” and (c) “I was under no obligation or pressure to do so except my own commitment to FRA, 2006”.

Ours is not a banana republic as Ramesh seems to suggest. Project clearances are governed by a set of laws, including the FRA. He is not only obliged, but he is “bound” by these laws.

For his benefit, it should be pointed out that section 4(5) of the FRA says “no member of a forest dwelling scheduled tribe or other traditional forest dweller shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is completed.”

He knows very well that the Orissa government has not implemented the FRA in the project-affected areas. Yet, instead of insisting on the rule of law, he is justifying why he is permitting illegality.

Similar is the case with the Polavaram project in Andhra Pradesh. Ramesh himself admitted in his clearance letter that the FRA had not been implemented by Andhra Pradesh or the two neighbouring states which would also be affected by it, Orissa and Chhattisgarh.

If he had to issue a ‘stop order’ later, it was because of public pressure. On his part, he had allowed illegality to happen.

In the latest case, he has lifted “stop work” on the Maheshwar dam in Madhya Pradesh on spacious grounds that chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan told him verbally on April 16, 2011 that the rehabilitation and resettlement (RR) had been slow “because the project-affected people have begun to think that the dam project will not be completed on account of the MoEF’s rigid stance”.

In the same order, he mentions clearly that the state government’s claims that 70 percent of RR is complete “are not at all convincing”.

Ramesh himself points out how non-compliance of RR requirement violates various legal requirements and the supreme court’s specific orders.  He is permitting illegality again.

He is right when he says he is “forced to” make “compromises” at times. But he is silent on violating law and not necessarily because a steel plant has been built or a power project has been constructed, but even when no work has begun or when work has been stopped because illegality has been found.

The sad part is such violation of law by Ramesh and other wings of the government doesn’t attracted criminal prosecution.

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