In a bizarre turn of events, as Jayanthi Natarajan resigned as Union Minister of State of Environment and Forests (Independent charge), she has been reportedly replaced by Veerappa Moily[i]. He holds Union Oil and Petroleum Ministry currently and will hold Ministry of Environment and Forests Ministry as an additional charge. Firstly there is issue of conflict of interest there, since projects from Oil and Petroleum ministry also come for environment clearances.
This choice of Veerappa Moily as the new Minister of Environment and Forests is shocking, ironical and unacceptable for many reasons. It seems the leadership of Congress and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has learnt no lessons from its Delhi election debacle. Mr. Moily’s appointment as Petroleum Minister in place of Jaipal Reddy was widely criticized as a sop to a specific private sector oil company[ii]. While we do not want to compare Mr. Reddy as Petroleum minister with Ms. Natarajan as Environment minister, Mr. Moily’s appointment as Environment Minister seems to cater to similar lobby for hydropower projects and dams.
Let us look at just a few instances to substantiate this.
Veerappa Moily laid the foundation stone of 85 MW Mawphu Stage II Hydel Project in Meghalaya in September 2012.[iii] The project is to be developed by NEEPCO (North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited). Shockingly Veerappa Moily laid this foundation stone even when the project did not have any of the statutory clearances from the Environment Ministry! This only indicates his callousness towards issues related to people and environment. The project has applied for 1st stage (Terms of Reference) Clearance only in January 2013 and that too has not been issued so far.
“Moily’s love for Hydels” Even as Hydel Power remains one of the most complex, controversial and problematic sectors with huge impacts on environment, people, downstream impacts, disaster implications, Veerappa Moily has been openly supporting Hydel power projects. He has been reported to have sent a note to the Prime Minister, pushing hydel power and Hydel Power Projects. This has been referred by the media as “Moily’s love for Hydels”.[iv]
Mr. Moily has urged the Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister to “Fast Track” Hydel Projects, and specifically seems to favour NEEPCO and NHPC. NHPC already holds several hydel projects in Arunachal Pradesh including the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Project which is witnessing possibly the strongest protest in the country from downstream Assam. [v]
In 2011, Veerappa Moily actually wrote to MoEF against expanding boundaries of Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary in Dakshin Kannada.[vi] He wrote that people from affected regions will lose homes and livelihoods. But the region under expansion includes parts of reserved forests. Environmental groups stressed that the pressure against expansion is not coming from people but from the powerful hydel and timber lobby which is causing serious environmental and social impacts in the region.[vii]
Support for controversial Yettinhole Project Mr Moily is staunchly supporting the very controversial Netravathi Diversion project (which is now labelled as Yettinahole Diversion Project, only to mislead people) for his constituency of Chikkaballapur.[viii] He is even asking people of Dakshin Kannada not to oppose the project (he has lost elections from that area more than once). This project has fraudulently tried to escape environmental clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. It entails 8 dams inside Western Ghats forest regions, affecting protected areas , a dam at Devaranyadurga which will submerge 1200 hectares of land including nearly 700 hecatres of forests and many villages. The proposal will cost minimum Rs. 100 Billion and is economically as well as technically unviable.[ix]
There is little doubt that Mr. Moily is an incorrect, inappropriate and unacceptable choice for the post of Union Minister of Environment and Forests. The UPA government is only committing blunders after blunders in the face of elections. We urge the UPA leadership to immediately change this decision. It would be in their own interest to do that.
firstname.lastname@example.org , SANDRP
PS: This Indian Express story seems to corroborate that the change is not for what is stated, but in favour of the Business and against the interests of the Environment and People. UPA will pay dearly for this: http://www.indianexpress.com/…/pm-wakes-up…/1210241/0
[vii] http://www.conservationindia.org/news/union-minister%E2%80%99s-letter-delays-extension-of-pushpagiri-wildlife-sanctuary-notification, http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/reserved-exploitation?quicktabs_1=1