Will strain every nerve to protect environment: Natarajan

New Delhi, April 13 (IANS) Facing the ire of industry and her colleagues for blocking crucial infrastructure projects citing green norms, Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan Saturday said it was her mandate to protect forests and she would strain every nerve to shield them.

“The minutes of the meeting of the Group of Ministers (GoM) are confidential. My colleagues in the government are entitled to their views. But it’s my mandate to ensure that forests are protected and personally I will strain every nerve to see that inviolate areas are shielded,” Natarajan told a TV channel in an interview.

“There should be forest areas which should be declared inviolate (barred for mining) on scientific parameters. I will hold more discussions with the GoM,” the minister said.

Industry and several ministries have accused the environment ministry of delaying green clearances to crucial projects.

The government has constituted a cabinet committee on infrastructure to speed up the green clearances for important projects.

Cautioning investors violating forest laws, Natarajan said: “If they are going against the law, they should be prepared to face the consequences. I am the custodian of India’s forests, which can never be replaced. A tree with 60 cm girth takes 100 years to grow. We cannot have compensatory afforestation.”

Denying that her ministry is holding up infrastructure projects, she said: “I challenge anybody who claims that environment ministry is a hurdle to development.”

“But investors should also realise that nobody can destroy natural wealth in the impatience to push development without environmental integrity.”

Natarajan also questioned financial institutions funding projects without green clearance.

“India’s pristine forests cannot be held hostage to infrastructure. The environment ministry cannot be presented with a fait accompli situation where thousands of crores of investments are made but environmental norms are violated,” she said.

“Why do banks and financial institutions fund projects which do not have environmental clearance? Often, investors do not provide complete information or even the coordinates of the areas where projects have to be set up.”

According to the environment minister, the environment clearance process is transparent and the issue of delays is seriously overstated as roughly 78 percent of environmental clearance is given by states, 17 percent by regional officers and only 8 percent of a particular category of projects come to the central government for clearance.

“Just like corporate social responsibility, there should be corporate environmental responsibility. And large corporate houses should voluntarily declare to shareholders what they have done for the environment and what is their carbon footprint.”

The minister also highlighted that funds crunch and staff shortage has been making it difficult to monitor compliance of environmental laws.

“I admit that my ministry’s record of monitoring compliance of regulatory laws is poor. I am planning to launch a dharna (sit-in) outside the finance minister’s office to let us have more staff. My budget is only Rs.2,000 crore,” Natarajan said.

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