Ignoring FAC, Jairam decisions land Jayanthi in trouble?

Ignoring the advice of a top official and overlooking the rejection of a proposal by Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) despite Prime Minister’s Office forwarding it appears to have put former Union Jayanthi Natarajan in trouble.

Natarajan is facing a CBI investigation in a case of abuse of official position and indulging in corruption by permitting the diversion of 55.79 hectares in Saranda Forest in Jharkhand’s Singhbhum for mining by Electosteel Casting Ltd.

The former Minister could not be contacted for her comments, even as CBI conducted searches at her premises in Chennai as well as that of other accused on Saturday.

According to the CBI FIR, the proposal was rejected twice by the FAC and once by her predecessor Jairam Ramesh. Second time, the FAC considered the matter after the PMO forwarded the application it received from the ECL asking it to consider it and take “appropriate action” when Ramesh was the Minister.

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The first proposal for diverting 192.50 hectares for mining iron and manganese ores was sent in January 2006 following which the Ministry of Mines asked Jharkhand government to ensure that Forest Conservation Act and other rules are followed.

The FAC had first rejected the proposal seeking approval for diversion of 55.79 out of 192.50 hectares of forest land for non-forestry use in October 2008 after Jharkhand government sent a proposal to the Ministry of Environment and Forest. Its contention was that the proposed mining area was part of core zone of Singhbhum Elephant Reserve and critical to Wildlife Conservation.

The ECL again submitted a proposal in May 2009, which the FAC did not take up in its August meeting. The Jharkhand government then approached then minister Ramesh in September 2009. However in April 2010, Ramesh said there was no need for reconsideration.

Three months later in 2010, the ECL petitioned the PMO, which forwarded it to the Ministry and again the FAC rejected it. The Planning Commission also sought a report from the Ministry, which provided the facts of the rejection by the FAC twice.

In July 2011, Natarajan took over the Ministry and a month later, ECL Managing Director Umang Kejriwal met her. After receiving information from the state on the project, she gave approval though the then Director General of Forests and Special Secretary advised her to refer the proposal to FAC, the FIR said.

Natarajan, it claimed, approved the proposal “without any change in the circumstances” after it was previously “rejected earlier” by her predecessor. “Besides, this approval had been accorded without adhering to the advice of the DGF&SS and against directions of Supreme Court,” the FIR added.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Sep 11, 2017)

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Challenges ahead for Piyush Goyal

Union Minister Piyush Goyal is taking over his new assignment at a time Railways is battling not just an image problem but also an uphill task to transform India’s largest public carrier.

Goyal’s entry coincides with a series of train accidents in the past weeks that cost Suresh Prabhu his portfolio and goodwill he had earned over the years.

The 53-year-old former investment banker, Goyal is entering the Rail Bhavan located near Parliament with an experience of overseeing an “allegation-free” auctions of coal blocks as Coal Minister in the Narendra Modi government.

His performance in the Ministry of Coal, which included increase in coal production and tackling domestic short supplies, acted as a force multiplier for his entry into the elite Cabinet.

However, a challenge awaits Goyal as he is taking over the Railways Ministry at a time it is facing big challenges on safety as well as its business.

The Prime Minister has made the government’s intent clear that they will leave no stone unturned on the overhaul of the Railways with the appointment of Ashok Lohani, known for turning around not-so-well organisations, as the Railway Board Chairman soon after back-to-back train accidents in the third week of August.

Goyal would get the help of Lohani, an Indian Railway Service officer who knows the Railways inside-outside, in setting the agenda for Railways.

The first priority would be take steps to increase safety and ensure that no accidents take place. On his table would be projects like electrification, high speed trains and green corridors.

One of the challenges before Goyal, who is trained in accountancy and law, to increase revenue and reduce expenditure to fight severe fund crunch. With Lok Sabha elections two years away, it could be a herculean task for Goyal to effect a sea-change without any substantial rise in ticket fare.

It is also to be seen whether Goyal would revive the clamour in some sections to privatise Railways or whether he would go in for public-private participation mode. He will also have to look at restructuring manpower in the Railways, which employs 14 lakh people.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Sep 4, 2017)

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