Calls for Kerala-specific model of biodiversity conservation

Oommen V. Oommen, convener of a committee formed to collect the State’s response to the K. Kasturirangan committee recommendations on the Western Ghats conservation, says the solution is two-fold for Kerala – kind words for now and a unique “Kerala-specific model of biodiversity conservation” for good.

He said the “true farmer” was a vital link to the ghats’ biodiversity and could not be ignored.

Prof. Oommen, who is travelling the hill regions by road, stopping to only hold meetings at the grassroots level, says the “story of biodiversity in Kerala is a different story all together”.

On ESAs

“Unlike in other States, the situation in Kerala is a different story all together, and cannot be envisaged in the Kasturirangan report. Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs) earmarked in the report are highly populated places here,” Prof. Oommen, emeritus scientist and Chairman of the Kerala State Biodiversity Board, told The Hindu in a phone interview.

He was speaking to the newspaper late Wednesday night while travelling from Karuvachundu to Kalikavu in Malappuram. He had spent the morning touring rural Kozhikode, and held sittings at Kavilumpara and Koorachundu panchayats.

“Today we have to evolve means to separate those ESAs with high population density. We have to evolve means by which both man and biodiversity can coexist in these places,” he said.

“The Kasturirangan report demarcated cultural and natural landscapes. But ESAs with high population density are areas where cultural landscapes exist within natural landscapes. In such cases, biodiversity can be managed at the micro-level only through local bodies such as the Biodiversity Management Committee chaired by the panchayat president concerned. Grama sabhas have to be involved. It is their constitutional right,” Prof. Oommen said.

He said the small farmer should not be made to pay the price of a government’s concept of biodiversity conservation.

“Today, a report will say that the land on which his (farmer) dwelling rests is an ESA. Tomorrow, another government will come with yet another report and say the land is ecologically fragile. The farmer has to bear the brunt of both terminologies,” Prof. Oommen said.

Assurance

On his experiences as a member on the committee, he said the panel’s first job had been to assure the people, make them comfortable.

“I never thought we will face such fear psychosis. Most of the people came to confide their anxiety. At this point a kind word matters a lot. Initially that’s what we are offering - kindness and assurance that we will protect you, protect your way of life. Any other manner of dealing with their anxieties will be counterproductive and lead to mob fury,” he said.

He says the cardinal principle in biodiversity conservation is that man is the most important link. “At the hearings, we came across people, true farmers, saying biodiversity is a curse. They say that we have been protecting the forests around us all these years, and now we will be penalised for this. They say, it is another group of people who are looting the forests,” he said.

He admits that a delay in explaining the reports by the authorities have contributed to the apprehension.

“There has been a vacuum in disseminating the import of the recommendations at the micro level. We have been trying to repair this. Our mission, along with preparing the State’s response to the recommendations, is also to simultaneously present an accurate report of the recommendations. We are carrying as many Malayalam translations of the recommendations as our little car can hold,” he said.

He talks of how over 500 people will arrive to attend the hearing at a hall meant to hold about 50.

“At Kavilumpara, a mike set was placed outside the hall which could accommodate only about 20 persons. The police said it was a security measure. But we insisted that this was not enough. So the hearing was moved to another hall 100 metres away where everyone could get inside,” he said.

“The true farmer is aware that the forests will provide for his needs and not meant to provide for his greed,” Prof. Oommen said.

More In: Kozhikode