Too late for change?
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The media feeding frenzy we saw last week over 'snoopgate' or 'stalkgate' or whatever else gate you want to call it was based on hypocrisy. Any hack who has covered politics in Delhi for more than five minutes knows how much snooping goes on as part of the routine business of the Government of India. What annoyed me about this very silly story is that it made the media overlook two significant political events. The first was Rahul Gandhi's speech to industrialists in Delhi, and the second was the sudden ouster of Jayanthi Natarajan as Minister for Environment and Forests.
Natarajan deserved to be removed as much as her predecessor Jairam Ramesh did because they turned the Environment Ministry into a licence raj without doing the smallest thing to improve the environment. With the grandiloquent arrogance that Indian officials are uniquely capable of, they behaved as if protecting the environment was somehow an Indian idea. It is not. It is an idea taken, like many other ideas, from developed Western countries which have succeeded in cleaning up their rivers and their atmosphere, and preserving their forests and mountains without stopping roads, airports, railways, power stations and factories from being built. Natarajan and Ramesh took the blinkered view that it was one or the other. And, ended up stopping more than Rs 10 lakh crore worth of projects without making any visible improvements to our rivers, cities or forests. They could not have because to do this you must have measurable, objective standards, and this they failed to come up with.
Judging from Rahul's speech to FICCI members in Delhi, he appears to have seen the light. Hours after Natarajan had resigned, he said, "Many of you have expressed your frustration with environmental clearances that are delaying projects unduly. There is excessive administrative and judicial discretion. The loopholes are so big you can drive a truck through some of them! Environmental and social damage must be avoided, but decisions must also be transparent, timely and fair."