New Delhi: Jairam Ramesh, India's green minister, has found new power in saying no to big industrialists and multi-million dollar projects if he thinks ecological balance is at stake.
Saying no to London-based industrialist Anil Agarwal's Vedanta group's bauxite mining project in Orissa is the latest of his headline-hogging decisions that has firmed up his reputation as a no-nonsense minister-cum-crusader.
In barely 14 months as environment minister, the suave 56-year-old technocrat-turned-politician has pitchforked a low-key ministry into front-page headlines.
Be it mega projects like Vedanta and Posco, the Navi Mumbai airport, GM foods or tortuous climate change negotiations, Ramesh, India's chief climate change negotiator, has an uncanny ability to be in the limelight.
The list of his detractors is long and he is often described as a 'wrestler'. Many of his colleagues gripe about his arrogance, but if it is a green cause, he does not mind driving the powerful and the wealthy red with rage.
Not that the man who sports white khadi churidar and kurta is always right. His criticism of Home Minister P. Chidamabaram for being tough on China's telecom operators did not go down well with the Congress party and even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pulled him up.
But it is this tenacity and forthrightness that has also earned him praise. Historian and writer Ramachandra Guha has described Ramesh as 'a true environment minister'.
'Intellectually speaking, the present incumbent, Jairam Ramesh, is a considerable improvement on Maneka Gandhi, and on all others who have held the post since 1980,' wrote Guha in an article.
A mechanical engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology-Mumbai and an alumnus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ramesh has performed multiple roles that include a brief assignment at the World Bank in 1978, two stints as an adviser in the Planning Commission, an officer on special duty during the National Front administration of the V.P. Singh government and as an official in the finance ministry headed by Manmohan Singh in the 1990s.
In recent years, he has emerged as a favourite intellectual of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and is said to be closely involved with mentoring Rahul Gandhi. In the first United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, he was minister of state for commerce and industry and minister of state for power.
But his big break came when the UPA was re-elected in May last year and he was given independent charge of the environment ministry.
Those who dismissed it as a lightweight ministry are ruing it now. Within months of taking charge, Ramesh was making headlines when he discarded the idea of the inter-linking of rivers in October 2009.
His visit to Bhopal in September last year put the spotlight on the toxic waste lying there since the 1984 Union Carbide plant gas leak. Later in April 2010, he announced the setting up of the first National Green Tribunal in Bhopal.
The formal rejection of Vedanta group's bauxite mining project in Orissa is his latest 'principled act' that has earned him gratitude of environmentalists.
Whatever critics may say, Ramesh, say insiders, is just the kind of environment minister India needed when climate change has climbed to the top of the global agenda.