In an unprecedented move which has left many red faces within the Congress party, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has publicly taken on the prime minister, the prime minister's office, and a senior party colleague alleging in black and white that under pressure he has to tolerate 'irregularities.'
He has said that despite his strong objections, he is under pressure to lift the stop work order on the final phase of the Maheshwar Hydroelectric Project in Madhya Pradesh.
What is both intriguing is that Jairam Ramesh has posted the entire order, detailing the 'pressure' he was put through, on the website of the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
And neither the All India Congress Committee official spokesperson Manish Tewari nor the AICC media chairman Janardan Dwivedi found themselves in a position to object to the actions of Jairam Ramesh or had anything to say on the matter.
Sources allege that Jairam Ramesh is learnt to have discussed the issue with the Cognress high command. Only after that he moved to take on the prime minister and the PMO and has put out in the public domain the entire exchange of letters and communications between him and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, the calls and letters from the PMO, the letter written by Digvijaya Singh in support of the Madhya Pradesh chief minister as well as pressure from the Union Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.
There is a great deal of surprise in the Congress party and the government at the manner in which Jairam Ramesh has not been taken to task for the manner in which he has taken on the prime minister.
On May 6, the day he signed the order, he spoke in a seminar that evening alleging that he was being asked to issue orders under pressure and said, "I have to tolerate many irregularities".
In the final paragraph of the five page note he has written out, Jairam Ramesh said, "I have no option but to agree to the lifting of the stop work order on the construction of the last 5 spillway gates. However, these gates shall not be lowered until satisfactory completion of R&R and its review. The filling up of the reservoire upto 154 meters will be considered after R&R work has been completed."
Jairam Ramesh in his five page note made it clear that after he issued an order to stop work, the Madhya Pradesh chief minister wrote to the prime minister, after which there was exchange of letters between the state government and the ministry along with periodic reviews by the PMO, since there was a great deal of pressure from both Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Digvijaya Singh.
Ramesh said that on December 22, 2010, he decided not to lift the 'stop work order' as he was not satisfied with the R&R as very little progress had been made.
This position continued till May when Jairam finally agreed to lift the the stop work order despite his clear articulation that there has been no work done on R&R. He said that on March 1 the government of Madhya Pradesh sent a report that 70 per cent of R&R had been completed. Jairam then asked for an explanation as to how they were claiming 70 per cent when by their own admission, "out of 9 villages to be fully submerged, only 1 had been relocated to a developed site."
The most recent review was conducted by the PMO on May 2, after which the Central Water Commission sent a report to the ministry recommending the installation of the balance 5 radial gates to avoid damage to existing construction in the event of breach of coffer dam due to monsoon floods.
A senior leader of the Congress party was candid in admitting that Jairam Ramesh obviously has the backing of some powerful people in the party to take on the PM in this way.
While making oblique statements is one thing, what has made the party leaders sit up is the brazen manner in which the entire issue has been put in the public domain, with party spokespersons unwilling to offer a single word in criticism.