The four times MP and former Minister of Environment said she obliged to the 'wishes' of Rahul Gandhi while serving as minister but was unceremoniously removed from her post and sidelined without any reason
Jayanthi Natarajan, the former Minister of Environment, Friday said she is quitting Congress, after a letter sent by her to party chief Sonia Gandhi was published in the Hindu. In the letter sent on 5 November 2014, Natarajan said she received specific requests from Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on environmental clearances while serving as Minister for Environment in the Manmohan Singh government and despite fulfilling these request was made a scapegoat for the economic problems of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
"I myself have served the Congress party from 1984. Thirty years later, for no fault of mine, I find that my own small work, and the glorious legacy of my family stand ruined. I want to place on record, that from 20 December 2013, until now, I have still not been told by you, why I was asked to resign from the Council of Ministers, nor have I ever been asked or given an opportunity to explain, if indeed I had committed any wrongdoing," she said in the letter sent to Sonia Gandhi.
Natarajan, following directions from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, resigned on 20 December 2013. She said, "The next day my resignation was headlines in the media, and all the initial reports correctly reported that I had stepped down for party work. By the afternoon, to my shock, I received information that persons from the office of Rahul Gandhi were calling the media and planting stories that my resignation was NOT for party work."
"My sources were impeccable, and I felt unease. Thereafter, the media was flooded with negative stories about me. The same day, namely, the day after I resigned, Rahul Gandhi addressed a FICCI meeting of industrialists, where he made uncomplimentary references to delays in environmental clearances, and the adverse effects upon the economy, and assured the corporate world, that the party and government would henceforth ensure that there would be no delays, and bottlenecks for industry. After being alerted by the media, I saw the entire speech on YouTube. It was then that some in the media questioned me if I had been asked to resign immediately, to enable Rahul Gandhi to address FICCI and the corporate world with the news of my resignation in the background," Natarajan said.
"I received specific requests [which used to be directives for us] from Rahul Gandhi and his office forwarding environmental concerns in some important areas and I took care to honour those 'requests'. 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 Vedanta despite tremendous pressure from my colleagues in cabinet, and huge criticism from industry for what was described as 'stalling' a Rs30,000 crore investment from Vedanta."
"The same happened in the case of the Adani projects, where I 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. 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 I was given specific input, to make my decision. Apart from this Pulok Chatterji, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister was in constant touch with me, and officers of the Ministry in guiding the decisions to be taken by the Ministry at that time."
Natarajan also alleged if being pressurised and used to lead issues which she felt wrong, like the attack on Narendra Modi, the current Prime Minister in the 'snoopgate' episode. She said, "While I was still a Minister, an important matter which has caused me great agitation is the fact that I was called upon to attack the present Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi on what is referred to in the media as ‘Snoopgate.’
Despite the fact that I initially refused, because I thought that the party should attack Narendra Modi on policy and governance and not drag an unknown woman into a controversy, Ajay Maken telephoned me on 16 November 2013, while I was on tour and asked me to come to Delhi immediately to address a press conference on the issue. I expressed my disinclination to do this, and refused the assignment, mentioning that I was a Minister at that time, and this should not be taken as the point of view of Government. I suggested perhaps an Official Spokesperson should do the Press Conference, if so desired. Maken told me once again, that this was a decision taken at 'the highest level' and that I had no choice in the matter. After the press conference throughout the controversy, which followed I was told by Maken to fiercely attack Narendra Modi, on TV channels and during debates, although I was otherwise never fielded in the media after appointment as Minister."
Jayanthi Natarajan, the four times member of Parliament (MP) since 1984, alleged that she was removed as party spokesperson over a phone call from Ajay Maken. She said, "...later in January, I was again shocked and distressed to receive a telephone call from Ajay Maken, Head of Congress Media cell. He informed me, that my name was being removed from the list of party spokespersons that the decision was taken 'at the highest level' and other work would be assigned to me."
"After my removal as Minister, there was widespread news coverage in the Kerala media that my removal was because I had notified the order on protection of the Western Ghats, the Kasturirangan Committee report, on December 19, 2013, (just one day before my removal) which had been bitterly opposed some sections of society in Kerala, who felt that this order would adversely affect their economic interests, and had expressed their opposition to the Prime Minister and to you. Nevertheless, in the interest of protecting the environment, and pursuant to orders of court, I took that important decision."
"My successor Veerappa Moily put my orders on hold. A few days before I was removed as Minister, I needed to review the Adani file for some legal issues. When I sent for the file, I was told that it was 'missing'. After considerable search, my officials 'found' it, apparently in the washroom of the computer section, the very day on which I had been asking to resign. Clearly some officials in my then Ministry did not want to send that file back to me, for unknown reasons."
According to the former Minister of Environment, during first week of January 2014, she met Congress President Sonia Gandhi. She said she put forth her grievances before the party chief and informed about requests from media. "I told you (Sonia Gandhi) that the media was keen I should speak to them in view of the huge speculation over my resignation, but you specifically told me not to meet the media. From that day until now, I have honoured that word. But from that day until now, I have neither been given party work, nor have I been given an opportunity to meet you, despite several requests," Natarajan said in her letter.