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Bracing up for the general elections, due in four-to-five months, after the drubbing in recent state assembly elections, the Congress is in for an organisational resuscitation, at the instance of party vice-president and likely prime ministerial candidate Rahul Gandhi. In what could herald many such re-assignments, Union environmental and forest minister Jayanthi Natarajan resigned on Saturday to take up a “larger role” in the party.
Oil minister Veerappa Moily will hold additional charge of environment and forests, according to a Rashtrapati Bhavan statement.
This is the second high-profile exit from the Cabinet this year after Ajay Maken quit as Union minister for housing and urban poverty alleviation in June to devote more time for party work.
Natarajan took up the crucial portfolio in 2011 from Jairam Ramesh at a time when corporate India was up in arms against huge delays in environmental and forest clearances for large projects and a tedious approval process that took a toll on investments in the economy. It was then reported that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was keen that the clearances be expedited. Natarajan was expected to spearhead the change. Her stint, however, was not particularly marked for any directional change, and later finance minister P Chidambaram got the PM to set up a Cabinet committee on investments for fast-tracking large infrastructure projects, much to the discomfiture of Natarajan.
Though Natarajan, a Rajya Sabha member from Tamil Nadu, expedited the pace of road construction by de-linking environment and forest clearances, as she demits office, as many as 31 power projects are awaiting environment clearance (EC). Even the Posco steel project in Orissa, the country’s largest FDI proposal, is stuck with the National Green Tribunal.
Tata Power’s 500 MW thermal power plant in Maharashtra; 1,980 MW plant in Sasan; 1,980 MW project in Jharkhand; public-sector Steel Authority of India’s mining proposal in Durg, Chhattisgarh, and NHPC’s 3,000 MW hydro project in Lohit, Arunachal Pradesh, are, among others, awaiting EC from the ministry of environment and forests.
Natarajan, however, was seen articulating the developing countries’ stand creditably in global fora on issues of climate change and sustainable