Chairman of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) Madhav Gadgil has accused the State and Union governments and the Kasturi Rangan committee of keeping the panel completely out of the loop while assessing its report.

Addressing an international conference on Conservation of Forests, Wildlife and Ecology organised by the Kerala Law Academy here on Saturday, Prof. Gadgil said the Union government was trying to suppress the panel report and evade a democratic debate on its recommendations.

This, he said, was responsible for misinformation and distortion of the report, triggering a storm of protest by some interest groups.

Prof. Gadgil said, “Our report, offered as a starting point for a democratic decision-making process, is being represented as an attempt at exclusionary conservation. WGEEP is being attacked because it points out many inconvenient truths”.

The panel, he said, had advocated a graded approach, with regulatory measures fine-tuned to local ecological and social contexts.

“The report was prepared in a transparent manner involving extensive consultations with farmers, fishermen, NGOs, experts, and people’s representatives ranging from panchayat members to MPs and State and Union Ministers. What we have provided is a broad set of guidelines that will have to be fine-tuned through a participatory process going down to grama sabhas”.

The process, he said, would require the full involvement of local communities.

“It involves giving democratic space to people. But there has been no attempt to initiate a public debate on the report and establish a feedback mechanism, starting from Panchayati Raj institutions, through State governments to the Centre”.

He said the final demarcation of zones including those surrounding protected areas should be based on extensive inputs from local communities and panchayats.

“During the consultations held for preparing the report, we found that people were crying for environmental protection. Development decisions are being thrust on the people. The role of panchayats and grama sabhas in environment protection is ignored. The report had proposed a model of conservation and development compatible with each other for the Western Ghats region”.

Later, addressing the media, he said the zonation proposed by WGEEP was being misinterpreted.

“The proposal for Ecologically Sensitive Zones does not mean conversion into a national park. It only means adherence to certain environmental regulations”.