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Taj adds to Baalu image woes

New Delhi, Oct. 2: Union environment minister T.R. Baalu is miffed.

The DMK minister is upset because K.C. Mishra, former Union environment secretary, has been charged by the CBI with tampering of files in the Rs 175-crore Taj heritage corridor scam. An FIR was registered against Mishra by the bureau and he was relieved of his charge on September 12.

This marked the first time a secretary-level bureaucrat has been shown the door.

Baalu feels his ministry’s image has taken a severe beating because of this.

His other grouse relates to the lack of publicity and media coverage for his ministry. The minister last figured prominently in the media last year during an international seminar on climate change and the environment held in the national capital.

Officials say Baalu is largely to be blamed for the slow trickle of information to the media. They add that his own style of functioning comes in the way of proper publicity. Baalu wants to be the only one to give out information relating to his ministry and does not like officials approaching the media before he does.

A ministry official had landed in trouble for releasing the latest figures relating to an increase in forest cover before Baalu could announce it himself. The furious minister ordered an inquiry into the “leak”. Insiders say officials have learnt to be tight-lipped and are scared to give out information.

The environment ministry has grown rapidly in recent years. Officials say the Supreme Court’s intervention on environmental issues and the global importance accorded to the subject means the ministry must be pro-active. This is not happening,” they say.

It is not just Baalu who is miffed. His colleagues are also upset with him. They feel he spends too much time in Chennai. Most of the time, he heads to the southern metropolis every Friday, returning only the next Monday – sometimes Baalu extends his stay beyond the weekend. “He does not spend much time in his office,” an official says.

When the ministry was handed to the DMK four years ago, his colleagues found him indifferent to his portfolio. “Not much has changed since then,” an official says. Baalu is still not in synch with the subject, which is largely technical in nature.

This is in marked contrast to his predecessor Maneka Gandhi, who was keenly interested in the subject and could network effectively with environmentalists at home and abroad.

Adding to Baalu’s woes was the recent refusal of the Prime Minister’s Office to sanction a trip to Japan to attend a meeting on the environment. The office said the matter was not important enough to merit a ministerial trip to Japan.

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