The Western Ghats People’s Forum has demanded that grama sabhas be convened in all 123 villages in the State that have been included in the list of ecologically sensitive areas by the Kasturirangan committee report on Western Ghats.

Addressing a press conference in Kochi on Thursday, forum general convener V.V. Augustine said the opinion of people who would be affected should be given due consideration before the State reached any decision on the committee report.

Fr. Sebastian Kochupurakkal, general convener, High Range Samrakshana Samithi, said some fanatical environmental organisations had kept alive the debate on the Gadgil committee report though the Union Ministry of Forests and Environment had rejected it. While the approach of the Kasturirangan committee was welcome, inhabited areas should be exempted from the list of ecologically sensitive areas.

“The foreword to the report states that one sq. km area with a density of more than 100 people will not be counted as ecologically sensitive. Every village in the State included in the list is densely populated, but they have still been categorised as ecologically sensitive. The fault lies not with the committee but the government and officials concerned who failed to submit relevant documents on time. This factual mistake should be corrected at least now,” Fr. Kochupurakkal said.

Harithasena director Abraham Benhur said the appointment of a three-member committee by the government to formulate its position on the Kasturirangan committee report was an eyewash. “Of the three members, State Biodiversity Board chairman Oommen V. Oommen and V.N. Rajasekharan Pillai of the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment are in favour of the report. This means that the committee already has a majority in favour of the Kasturirangan report,” he said. The report had been drawn up with scant regard for the fate of about 25 crore people who would be affected by it, he said.

Pleading to stop the portrayal of residents of high ranges as dacoits, Mr. Benhur said environmentalists calling for the implementation of the report were silent on real estate mafia using the building materials from places part of the Western Ghats. He also called for a green bench for raising the problems of farmers.

Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha (AGMS) alleged that the government decision to appoint a committee to study the Kasturirangan committee report was aimed at sabotaging the proposals to protect the Western Ghats.

AGMS chairperson C.K. Janu said real estate and mining lobbies, with the connivance of political parties and the government, were carrying out a propaganda that the implementation of the report would lead to mass eviction of people from the high ranges. “This is aimed at misleading people. The report only suggests phasing out in five years activities such as mining and not eviction of people. Affected people should be convinced about the facts of the report rather than treating them as mere vote bank,” she said.

Bhooparishkarana Samithi convener M. Geethanandan alleged that the government move to take into consideration only the opinion of village heads was aimed at sabotaging the implementation of the report. “Views of local people affected should be taken into account for which grama sabhas should be convened in all affected villages,” he said.

Mr. Geethanandan said the Central government would be petitioned on the State government’s denial of right to adivasis and grama sabhas by keeping their views out.

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