A cryptic clue

The Prime Minister's proposal to introduce an 'industry-friendly' forest policy is puzzling

Published: Saturday 15 November 1997

prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral's declaration at a five-hour conclave with industrialists that the government will come up with a new "industry-friendly forest policy within a month", came as big surprise to many. The Union minister for environment and forests Saifuddin Soz was busy talking about the government's 'pro-people' forest policy at the world forestry congress in Istanbul, and officials at the Union ministry of environment and forests (mef) had no clue of what the Prime Minister (pm) expected of them.

What provoked the pm to make such a commitment is anybody's guess. According to a senior official in the mef , the pm 's commitment is unprecedented in many ways. First, it was made when the concerned minister was not around. No official from the mef was present at the conclave either. Second, as far as the mef is concerned, there is no proposal to change the policy. The ministry's stand has been that the 1988 policy should be implemented effectively. A meeting of state forest secretaries with Soz on September 25-26, decided on this course of action. It also decided to set up an ad hoc committee to look after implementation of the policy.

Soon after the pm 's declaration, the Prime Minister's office (pmo) asked the environment secretary for a Cabinet note on handing over wasteland to industries. High-level officials in the mef are still trying to understand what the pm meant by an 'industry-friendly' policy. The information officer at the pmo was unable explain what the commitment entails. Perhaps the pm was sending a message to the pulp and paper industry that has been clamouring for lease of wasteland for plantation, which has met with stiff resistance from environmentalists and forest officials.

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