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PM, Sonia differ in key policy matters

By Renu Mittal
Last updated on: September 10, 2010 01:39 IST
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All is not well in the top Congress leadership. Basic differences in approach have emerged between the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi over issues of environment, development and industry.

Also Read: PM in trouble with Sonia over remarks on Nehru, Rahul?

While Sonia's emphasis and priorities are clearly tilted towards the protection of environment, the prime minister is clear environment cannot stand in the way of development and stresses for industrialization, if required.

Speaking at a function on Thursday to dedicate the national capital thermal power project in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, the Congress president while admitting that economic growth is built on greater electricity production and consumption, said, "At the same time, we must protect the environment to ensure sustainable development. In whatever we do we must not forget that our lush forests and mountains, majestic rivers and all other water sources, and clean air have sustained and nurtured us for millennia. We have a responsibility to preserve them for the coming generations."

But the prime minister spoke differently just a few days ago to a group of editors. One of the questions related to the tussle within his government on issues of environment versus the needed industrialization to which Dr Singh had replied, "Environment issues are very important, but at the same time if anyone believes that environment can be protected by perpetuating poverty in this country, that is a view I do not share."

While the Congress would be at pains to point out that both the leaders are speaking in similar vein and talking about striking a balance between environment and industrialization, it is obvious that the priorities are totally different. In this context, it would be relevant to note that a huge tug of war has been on in the Manmohan Singh government over the roadblocks being placed by the Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh to some key projects. Complaints have gone up to the prime minister, but Ramesh has remained firm in his stand.

The backing of both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi over the issues related to environment has been a huge prop for Ramesh to lean on and which has been the basis of his confidence to take on senior Union ministers and even chief ministers.

The latest case was that of Vedanta where despite the huge push given by Navin Patnaik and the complaint he made to the prime minister, Rahul Gandhi went to visit the tribals in Niyamgiri in Orissa and assured them that no one will tamper with either their mountains or their land. Needless to say, the project was scrapped.

In a surprise move by Jairam – as The Hindu reported – said if the Maharashtra government and the Union Civil Aviation Ministry want Mumbai's second airport to come up at the proposed site in Navi Mumbai, they should use some of the land allotted to the Special Economic Zone allotted to Mukesh Ambani of Reliance industries, instead of destroying mangroves on the northern side. This cannot be taken as an off-the-cuff remark.
On the issue of land acquisition, Sonia again struck a note of caution. How this should be handled without infringing on the rights of farmers, she said, "New industry and new infrastructure cannot be built without acquiring land. This is obvious. But land acquisition must be done in a manner that does not result in the loss of large tracts of land fertile and productive agricultural lands so indispensable to cultivate food grains needed to feed our people. And if farmers are of necessity deprived of their land based livelihood, they must be provided with adequate compensation and alternative

While the direct target was the practices of Mayawati on the issue of land acquisition, sources say that the message is much wider as she spells out her priorities in this area, however much they may run counter to the government's thinking and practices.

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Renu Mittal in New Delhi
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