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Raja’s environment role under scanner

A. Raja

ainted Telecom Minister A. Raja's association with key beneficiaries in the 2G scam, Unitech and DB Realty (now Swan Telecom) started when he was Union Environment Minister in 2004-2007. He had given environmental clearances for some of their key projects at the instance of R.K. Chandolia who was then Director, Planning and Coordination in the Environment ministry. Chandolia followed Raja to the Telecom Ministry as his personal secretary.

The CBI has established these early connections in its probe into the Rs 30,000 cr 2G scam, and recorded the facts in its chargesheet. Several environmental experts have also now demanded a review of Raja's tenure as Environment Minister, particularly as 2016 projects got environmental clearances in just two years.

The relationship between certain beneficiaries of 2G spectrum allocations and A. Raja blossomed during his stint in the Environment Ministry. According to environment expert Gopal Krishna, Raja cleared several high profile projects some of which compromised national borders with a rampant hazardous waste trade. The Ministry, however, chose not to have a database on the extent of compliance of the projects it cleared.

"Under the new environment impact assessment 2006 Notification, 2016 projects were cleared between 2006 and 2008 in just 2 years. Those projects which were cleared under his regime now merit rigorous scrutiny by both PAC and JPC," Krishna said.

The Sunday Guardian has accessed the letter of the then Denmark Environment Minister Connie Hedegaard to A. Raja written in 2005, warning him of the possible entry of the fugitive Danish hazardous ship Rickey into India. Raja ignored the letter and since no action was taken by the government, Danish police closed the case once Raja left the office in 2007.

Sources said that the DMK Minister had ensured that the entire system was hand in glove with cash buyers in the scrap business. "There is an unacknowledged and irreparable loss to India's ecological and natural resources due to decisions taken by A. Raja during his term as environment minister," the sources said. India is still handling the irregularities committed by Raja at the time. Currently, 17,000 explosives weighing 200 quintals are being detonated by the Indian Army's bomb disposal unit in Ludhiana Punjab. These explosives came in 2006 after the Environment Ministry gave the clearance in the guise of recycling. These were part of the same consignments that had caused explosions in the Bhushan Steel plant in Sahibabad-Ghaziabad area that killed several workers in 2006.

Environment expert point out that the most damaging period for the ministry was from 2005 to 2007, when even the appointment of the expert appraisals committee (EAC), responsible for granting clearances to various sector came under a cloud.

"In 2005 out of 64 members in EAC's majority of the members were from Tamil Nadu. During Raja tenure in 2007, P. Abraham, a project promoter of hydro power was appointed the chairperson of EAC," the sources said.

Himanshu Thakkar, Delhi based environment expert, wrote to A. Raja clearly pointing out the conflict of interest in Abraham case but he refused to budge.

"Both DMK leaders, A. Raja and T.R. Baalu proved to be a complete disaster for the Indian environment policy," he said.

"The role of EACs on industries, mining and infrastructure needs to be probed as Raja and his team were deeply involved in granting clearance to the tainted companies. The resulting human costs due to callous and corrupt decision making agencies like the one led by Raja are bigger than the financial loss in the spectrum scam," according to official sources.

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