Earlier this year, the environment ministry had issued guidelines fixing the minimum width of roads between highrises 15-30 metres tall at 15 m, for 45-60 m buildings at 24 m, and for buildings higher than 60 m at 30 m. Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan is learnt to have protested, pleading that in space-straved Mumbai, such an order would imply a ban on new buildings. He is yet to hear from Natarajan.
This May, the environment ministry issued a notification saying fresh and renewed leases of minor minerals for areas less than 5 hectares should be issued only after clearance from the ministry. The notification has shackled road, railway projects in Haryana.
A senior official of the National Highways Authority of India wrote to the Haryana chief secretary recently, pointing out that the soil required for embankments comes under the definition of minor minerals. “Soil is the basic material for the construction of highways. The non-availability of earth for embankment filling is badly affecting the progress of roads/highways in Haryana,” chief general manager Dev Raj wrote.
Following the ministry notification, the Mining Officer, Sonepat, stopped issuing permission for excavation of soil for the Jind-Sonepat railway line. On September 5, 2012, the chief administrative officer (Construction), Northern Railway, wrote to the state chief secretary: “It is requested that the issue may be taken up with the Ministry of Environment & Forests to permit excavation of earth for construction of Jind-Sonepat line so that the work can be completed within the targeted time.”
Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda was learnt to have taken up the matter with Natarajan, but to no avail. Mining operations in Haryana are largely confined to minor minerals like stone, boulder, gravel and sand. The ban on excavation has resulted in the escalation of prices of construction materials several-fold. Delays, and in some cases abandonment, of infrastructure projects have followed.
Jayanthi Natarajan, however, said both the minor minerals and highrises issues had been misinterpreted and misunderstood.
The minor minerals order had come from the Supreme Court and not the ministry, Natarajan said. “It was not a very clear order and could have been interpreted differently by different parties. So I sought the legal opinion of the additional solicitor general... The states do not need to come to me for approval. And if they have a problem with the Supreme Court order, they can always approach the court again,” she told The Indian Express.
On highrises and the minimum width of roads, Natarajan said she was willing to discuss the matter with an “open mind”. “The building bylaws have not been inserted by me. They are in the laws. If everyone wants it changed, let’s discuss it. I have an open mind. But I would been more happy if everyone also discussed introducing international best practices in our highrise buildings. That no one is talking about, unfortunately,” she said.
Pranav Singh, chairman of the Uttarakhand Forest Development Corporation and a three-term Congress MLA, said, “She (Natarajan) is not sympathetic or sensitive to the people. Netas (leaders) should be concerned about the people, but she lives in an air-conditioned room, unmindful of the people.”
Singh said many of Natarajan’s orders were “Tughlaqi”, referring to the medieval sultan of Delhi Muhammad bin Tughlaq, who is known for having issued several whimsical orders that caused massive losses and suffering.
“She has put a blanket ban on minor minerals and imposed ridiculous conditions that you declare two areas as wildlife sanctuaries, Pawalgarh and Nandher. This is a Tughlaqi order. Unless local population agrees, you cannot open sanctuaries, and it takes time as people are refusing to accept it. Her logic is completely impractical but she won’t listen to us, even though the chief minister too has written to her,” Singh told The Indian Express.