Two days after her sudden resignation as Environment & Forests Minister, Jayanthi Natarajan sent back about 280 files, of which nearly 70 relating to private sector projects had been approved by her between November 14 and December 6 but kept at her residence.
Among these were environment approvals to projects
of Jindal Steel, Jindal Saw, Ultratech Cement, Orient Cement, Tata Steel, Dhamra Port expansion, Simar Port, GMR’s hydroelectric project and a few relating to polymer and chemical units in Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Sources said the minister’s approvals were in line with the recommendations of the Environment Appraisal Committee (EAC), though these had been submitted to her back in September and October. “Once the EAC had recommended, there was no reason to take a contrary decision or delay the approvals,” a source said.
Besides the month-long delay in approvals, the delay of more than a month by Natarajan’s staff in sending back the approved files after the minister had signed them has raised concerns, and her successor M Veerappa Moily plans to assign an official to recheck these endorsements.
The files sent back from her residence on December 23 also show that a majority do not have the minister’s approval even though some had been pending with her since July 2012.
Those returned without approval relate to projects of the government’s Border Roads Organisation or PSUs and some relating to mundane reorganisation of outfits like the Central Zoo Authority, Indian Board for Wildlife, National Institute of Animal Welfare and National Biodiversity Authority.
When asked about the files, Natarajan said: “I have no idea what you are talking about. I will therefore not comment.” Moily was unavailable for comment. While his aide initially said the minister was busy, later Moily’s number was unreachable.
“Just go through the FTS (file tracking system) of the ministry and you will see that delay in approvals was happening for long, almost two years. Files came back after more than a month from the minister’s office. I ensured that this was recorded in the FTS,” a ministry official said.
Natarajan’s resignation on December 21 followed complaints from the industry that the Enviroment Ministry was holding up clearances to projects. Natarajan has maintained she resigned on her own to work for the party in view of the Lok Sabha polls.
She was given the portfolio in 2011 after Jairam Ramesh was accused by India Inc of huge delays in clearances.