|From no-go to go-go|
|Tuesday, 01 February 2011 00:00|
RBI may not have mentioned environment minister Jairam Ramesh’s no-go policies as a reason for derailing India’s growth story, as the RBI spokesperson says on these pages, but it does appear Jairam is trying to change his image as a spoiler. From revelling in rejecting environment clearances to projects (remember when he rejected Niyamgiri’s clearance just in time for Rahul Gandhi to go and proclaim he’d saved the tribals’ mountain?), Jairam is now going out of his way to appear reasonable, including telling CII he was open to projects being pre-cleared before industry taking them over. The Navi Mumbai airport was the first sign of thaw, and ‘rivers’ and ‘hills’ that were sacrosanct earlier were allowed to be diverted/levelled after the project authorities made some changes; hill station Lavasa was asked to pay a penalty and move on; Jairam met Vedanta chief Anil Agarwal and signalled a softening; on Monday he cleared Posco’s 12 mn tonne steel plant in Orissa and its captive port.
There are 28 additional riders for the steel plant and 32 for the captive port—most look like face-savers. One of the ‘most significant’ ones (to quote Jairam’s order) for the steel plant is that the ministry’s ambient air quality standards will be met! Others include Posco surrendering its water intake if there is a shortage for irrigation purposes; risk and disaster management plans will be submitted to the ministry; 2% of its net profits will be used for CSR work; no construction shall take place in the ‘high erosion’ zone of the coast; no industrial activity that is not permitted under the CRZ Act will be permissible. More important than the face-savers is what Jairam has accepted. Much was made of the fact-finding mission finding 21 tribals in the voters’ list—the ministry argued this showed both Posco and the Orissa government were lying when they said it was not a tribal area. Monday’s clearance, however, admits “it is clear that the Posco project site is not part of a Fifth Schedule Area (essentially tribal area) and is, in fact, far away from the nearest Fifth Schedule Area”. For non-tribals to be considered ‘other traditional forest dwellers’, certain conditions have to be met and the ministry has left this to the Orissa government.
None of this is to say the environment doesn’t have to be protected, but the ministry didn’t seem interested in finding a way to allow both development and green to co-exist. In the Lavasa case, for instance, apart from the issue of state vs central jurisdiction, it never even took into account the lakhs of trees planted when it ordered they be ripped out in its status quo ante order. With Jairam getting more realistic, like other Bric countries, perhaps India will also see its FDI levels improving instead of the sharp slowdown taking place right now.