BHUBANESWAR: Senior Congress leader and former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh, who often courted controversy for stalling projects when he was at the helm of the Environment and Forest Ministry in the UPA government, on Saturday said he firmly believed that economic growth should be integral to environment protection.
Author of ‘Green Signals: Ecology, Growth and Democracy in India’ and ‘To The Brink And Back: India’s 1991 Story’, Ramesh, who had played a role in the 1991 economic reforms, besides holding positions in the ministries of commerce, power, finance and the Planning Commission, said economic growth must be inclusive and sustainable. High growth does not mean undermining environmental concerns.
“I firmly believe that managing environmental risks must be integral to the growth strategy. Each of this has to be balanced for sustainable development,” Ramesh said in the book reading session of the Odisha Literary Festival here moderated by senior journalist Shankkar Aiyar.
There is an ancient Sanskrit saying, ‘Prakrutihi Rakshati Rakshita’ (nature protects us if we protect nature), he said and added, “We ignore this piece of wisdom at our own peril.”
Ramesh, who had to face a lot of criticism for allegedly stalling big ticket projects, including Posco’s proposed steel project near Paradip and Vedanta’s mining plan for Niyamgiri in Kalahandi district, wondered as to why the two projects are still hanging fire even after four years. (He was shifted to the Rural Development Ministry in July 2011).
The former Union Environment and Forest minister clarified that the two projects could not take off due to public resistance rather than objection from the Ministry.
“They (Posco and Vedanta) held public hearings but there was no public. When there was public, there was no hearing,” he remarked.
Ramesh, however, blamed the ineffectual mining policy of the Centre for the current mess in the mineral-based industry sector.
However, contrary to perception, the fact is that almost 95 per cent of the proposals for environmental clearances got the go- ahead and 85 per cent of the proposals for forest projects received the green signal and on time, Ramesh said, adding only a few projects got highlighted by the media.
Ramesh, however, refused to comment when Aiyar asked his comment on “J-Tax” which refers to Jayanti tax, a phase coined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during 2014 election campaign.
Responding to a query on poor economic growth of mineral-bearing States like Odisha, Ramesh said mining is as much a curse as a boon. The poorest of the US, Europe, Canada and Russia live in mineral- bearing areas. The same is applicable to Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh also.