Former Union Minister of State for Environment and forest and Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan’s outburst unleashed through her letter of November 5, 2014 to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, which has been flashed widely in the public domain by the media today, goes on to expose in large measure how she was working as a puppet and loyal follower of the Party High Command in her capacity as a Union Minister. Of course, her letter also gives a crystal-clear view from inside the ring about how the previous Manmohan Singh Government went about playing its executive responsibility….no wonder all called it a puppet regime. One can visualise so clearly how Ms. Natarajan was herself a puppet on a string.
Soon after her letter was leaked, Ms.Natarajan announced her resignation from Congress party.
The Constitution of India is absolutely clear. Article 75(3) states that the Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the House of the People. The Union Ministers take oath of office and secrecy under the Third Schedule [Articles 75(4), 99, 124(6), 148(2), 164(3), 188 and 219] of the Constitution. They take oath to bear true faith and solemnly affirm allegiance to the Constitution of India to uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India, and faithfully and conscientiously discharge duties as a Minister for the Union and do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will and not in accordance with the wishes or directives of the party leadership.
The ball is now in Ms Natrajan’s court and she will have to do a lot of explaining and answer whether or not she had upheld the letter and spirit of the Constitution after taking the oath of office and secrecy when she became a Union Minister. On the one hand she says in her letter that throughout her very brief tenure, she strictly followed the laws and rules and tried to protect the environment, in keeping with the legacy of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, who first brought in the Environment Protection Act and on the other, she goes on to admit that she received specific requests, adding these used to be directives for them (ministers) from Rahul Gandhi and his office forwarding environmental concerns in some important areas and she took care to honour those “requests.” She also goes on to underline that in several cases, including the stalled GVK power project regarding the Dhari Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh, the Lavasa project in Maharashtra, the Nirma cement plant in Gujarat and in several other cases she was given specific input, to take decision. Apart from this Pulok Chatterji, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister was in constant touch with her, and officers of the Ministry in guiding the decisions to be taken by the Ministry at that time. Hence, in her decision making, she factored in the party line despite all criticisms against her and therefore several decisions of her were expressly overruled by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, she has pointed out.
Ms. Natarajan has also focussed on the fact that over the last 11 months she went through “untold mental and physical agony”. She has also stated that she has major health issues due to tension and humiliation over the treatment meted out to her, and her future looks bleak. She also wants to save the legacy of her family and children, she has observed.
In the case of the Adani projects, Ms. Natarajan has written, she had faced tremendous criticism from within the cabinet and outside, “for stalling investment at a time when the country was going through a difficult time in terms of the economy.” She goes on to add in this connection that the complaints of the local fisherfolk and NGOs of environmental violations in the Adani case were forwarded to her by Rahul Gandhi’s office, and she was told to liaise with one Dipak Babaria in the matter. Occasionally, she had apprised Rahul Gandhi of steps taken by her and he responded positively. In fact, Ms.Natarajan goes on to add that even the Congress President had conveyed her concern in this regard in letters written to her.
Ms. Natarajan further writes, Rahul Gandhi went in person to Niyamgiri Hills in Odisha, and publicly declared to the Dongria Kondh tribals that he would be their “sipahi” and would not allow their interests to suffer at the hands of mining giant Vedanta. His views in the matter were conveyed to me by his office, and I took great care to ensure that the interests of the tribals were protected and rejected environmental clearance to Vendanta despite tremendous pressure from my colleagues in cabinet, and huge criticism from industry for what was described as “stalling” a Rs. 30,000 crore investment from Vedanta.