Thiruvananthapuram, June 1 : People of Kerala are eagerly waiting to see what decision union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar takes on reports prepared by the Madhav Gadgil and K. Kasturirangan panels on how to conserve the Western Ghats. Javadekar recently announced that a decision would be taken at a meeting in New Delhi June 4.
Kasturirangan was roped in by the environment and forests ministry to head a 10-member High-Level Working Group (HLWG) to advise the central government on the recommendations made by the Gadgil-led experts panel on how to conserve the ecologically fragile Western Ghats.
The Western Ghats is a UNESCO recognised natural heritage site comprising a contiguous forested mountain range, which stretches from Kerala to southern Gujarat. The panel report has faced opposition in several states in the Western Ghats belt, including Kerala and Goa. The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), also known as the Gadgil Commission, submitted its report to the centre Aug 31, 2011.
But following huge resentment over the report from six states, including Kerala, the then Congress-led government appointed a panel headed by noted space scientist Kasturirangan to study the Gadgil report. Following the Kasturirangan report, the ministry in November 2013 came out with an order which laid out five conditions applicable to 123 villages in Kerala.
The order prohibits mining and setting up of thermal plants, and restricts construction of buildings to less than 20,000 square metres. It also says no township project in these villages can exceed 50 hectares, and industries in the red category cannot be set up in these villages.
Kerala was also unhappy with Kasturirangan’s report. After public outcry from the Catholic Church, residents of Idukki and other hill districts, a notification was issued by the forests ministry in March that accepted the directions to keep agricultural land, plantations and habitations out of 123 villages that were classified by the HLWG as ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs). Through this notification, the total area in Kerala that would come under the Western Ghats came down from 13,108 square km to 9,993 sq km.
This includes 9,107 sq km of forests and 886 sq km of rocky areas and meadows where there is no human habitation. The Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB), which was entrusted with the job of preparing the fresh demarcation as directed by the forests ministry, however, appears to be puzzled with Javedekar’s statement.
“The matter is sub-judice and the issue is being looked into by the Green Tribunal. Of the six states through which the Western Bhats passes (Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Goa, Tamil Nadu and Kerala), when the Gadgil Committee report came, three states were ruled by the BJP and all of them opposed it. Hence, the Kasturirangan Committee was appointed,” said KSBB member-secretary K.P. Laladhas.
While the Congress and its allies and the Left have been opposing both the reports, the BJP’s Kerala unit has been batting for implementing the Gadgil report. The BJP Sunday got a new partner when the Church of South India (CSI), in a letter read out in all its churches, Sunday said all people should speak out about their concerns on the protection of environment. ”Those who are against the Gadgil report have vested interests and there is nothing that is detrimental to the interests of the farmers,” the letter said.
Javadekar has said the government believed in coexistence of environment and development, and not in “environment versus development”.