22/12/2015 4:40 PM IST | Updated 29/08/2016 9:00 PM IST

The Toyota Fortuner SUV Used By Environment Minister Prakash Javdekar Is Of Strange Provenance

SAJJAD HUSSAIN via Getty Images
Indian Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar speaks during a press conference in New Delhi on August 24, 2015. World governments will try to forge a new global accord to address climate change at a UN climate conference in Paris from November 30 - December 11, 2015 with both developed and developing countries committing to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. AFP PHOTO / SAJJAD HUSSAIN (Photo credit should read SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI -- Until recently, as he worked on India's line at the CoP21 climate change conference in Paris, environment minister Prakash Javdekar travelled in Delhi in a white Toyota Fortuner SUV with a red beacon. Bizarrely, this vehicle was purchased by the Steel Authority of India Ltd and was made available to the Ministry of Environment and Forests to be used by the latter's inspectors to visit the state-owned steel company's Barsua iron mines in Odisha. The minister is yet to respond to the revelation of this inappropriate practice by The Indian Express.

“As per the forest clearance condition, the proposal for the SUV sought from SAIL for Odisha mine inspection used by Javadekar in Delhi car was sent to our E&L (Environment and Lease) division in the Kolkata headquarters,” H. Bara, who was General Manager of Barsua mines when the Fortuner was purchased, told the newspaper. Mr Bara has since retired.

Simply, it means that to clear the mining license, the ministry imposed the condition that the steel company must provide vehicles for its inspectors to visit the mine. The steel company bought not any ordinary vehicle, but a high-end luxury SUV, which ended up not with the field offices of the ministry near the mines in Odisha, where it might have been used for the stated purpose, but inexplicably, in the personal use of the union environment minister in Delhi! It also points to the odd fact that even as pollution in Delhi went through the roof and various authorities were taking steps to curb emissions, the country's environment minister failed to set an example, travelling in a powerful diesel SUV.

Javdekar's predecessor in the environment ministry, Congress' Jairam Ramesh, had said in 2010 that using an SUV in India was a criminal act. SUVs and other expensive diesel cars benefit from subsidized diesel, which is meant to alleviate the burden of farmers who use the fuel to operate water pumps.

As per records, the Rs20 lakh vehicle is registered under the name of an Under Secretary in the General Administration Division of the Ministry. Javadekar's official vehicle, for which he is entitled a red beacon under Supreme Court directions, is a far humbler Maruti SX4 sedan.

So how did the minister end up using a high-end SUV? He will need to explain.

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