It’s no exaggeration to conclude that Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh has become the pencil in the hands of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi for the “course correction” from the unidimensional, growth-at-all-costs approach that the Manmohan Singh government had embarked upon in the first year of UPA-II.
After summarily giving the short shrift to tribals while pursuing India’s “gravest internal security threat”, the hand-brake has been suddenly applied. Anil Agarwal‘s Vedanta project has been shown the door. The nation’s biggest FDI investment, Posco, is hanging in the balance. Searching questions have been asked of the New Bombay airport project. Etc.
Jairam Ramesh has now been emboldened to stick it into sport utility vehicles (SUVs), the gigantic off-roaders whose passengers sit high enough to comfortably piss into passing cars. Ramesh says the use of SUVs is “criminal” and that the diesel-guzzlers of the rich were eating up the fuel subsidies meant for the poor.
Not surprisingly, environmentalists have cheered the thundering slap, but the auto industry has contested Ramesh’s claims and the German ambassador in India has jumped into the frame and said: “Deutsch Automobilsektor hat “herausragende Kompetenz” in der Motorenentwicklung und verwendet moderne Technologie, um Verbrauch und Emissionen reduzieren.”
Questions: Is Ramesh right about SUVs or is he barking up the wrong tree? Does he also object to the use of SUVs by “future former prime minister of India” Rahul Gandhi, during his Bharat Yatra, or is he only irritated by the sight of lesser mortals enjoying the pleasure of scaring smaller cars? Should there be alternate pricing of diesel for SUVs or should they be taken off the road altogether?
Photograph: Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi atop an SUV during his visit to West Bengal in September 2010 (courtesy: The Telegraph, Calcutta)