Natarajan’s claim on Vedanta sparks debate in Odisha

Bhubaneswar, Jan 30 (IANS) Former union minister Jayanthi Natarajan’s claim that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi put pressure on her to reject the green clearance to Vedanta’s mining project in Odisha Friday sparked a political debate here.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) lashed out at the Gandhi family for influencing the government’s decision, the Congress tried to defend itself stating the intervention was meant to protect interest of ‘Dangaria Kondh’ tribes in Niyamgiri hills of Kalahandi district.
“The statement of Natarajan exposed the conspiracy of UPA to destroy the economy of Odisha. Vedanta came here to set up an industry and create jobs in Odisha. But, the cancellation of the forest clearance was a big jolt to the company and it almost came to closure,” said BJD spokesperson Rabinarayan Nanda.
Senior BJP leader Suresh Pujari said it was wellknown that the first family of the Congress party was intervening in the government.
“We all know that Rahul and Sonia Gandhi were using extra-constitutional authorities in the government and used to influence the government decisions. The statement of Natarajan only vindicated it,” said Pujari.
However, the Congress leaders became defensive and admitted that there could have been pressure from Rahul to deny permission to Vedanta to mine bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills.
“Rahulji had already taken a stand to protect interests of tribals under any circumstance. So, I think Rahulji might have spoken to her about the Niyamgiri issue. I see nothing wrong in it,” said former Congress MP Pradeep Majhi.
Majhi said the Congress vice-president had visited the hills here and assured the tribals he would defend their rights in Delhi.
“The Supreme Court also asked the tribal affairs ministry to hold gram sabhas (village meetings) in Niyamgiri area to take views of the local residents. The tribals also rejected the mining proposal of Vedanta to mine on the hills,” added Majhi.
In her resignation from the party, the former union minister of forest and environment wrote to the Congress high command that she received specific requests from the Congress vice-president on environmental clearances and she consequently rejected big-ticket projects despite pressure from her Cabinet colleagues seeking approval.
The ministry had declined to give Vedanta the stage-2 forest clearance to extract bauxite from Niyamgiri hills Aug 24, 2010.
Rahul Gandhi, who claimed to be a ‘sipahi’ (soldier) of the tribals, visited the site at Niyamgiri Aug 26, 2010.