To resolve issue of farmers’ livelihood loss

The district authorities on Saturday handed over the cadastral maps and compact discs containing the metes-and-bounds of nine grama panchayats categorised ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs) by the K. Kasturirangan report on Western Ghats.

The cadastral maps and land documents will be closely scrutinised by the village committees, following which the respective panchayat members and village officials along with the Range Forest Officer concerned will conduct a detailed checking of the properties under the cadastral maps to demarcate or delineate ESAs.

The exercise is part of a mutual dialogue started between the authorities and villagers to jointly resolve the issue of loss of livelihood alleged by the farmers in the high-ranges following the Kasturirangan report.

The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has already issued a draft notification accepting a proposal submitted by an expert panel led by Oommen V. Oommen, Chairperson, Kerala Biodiversity Board, on behalf of Kerala government to reduce the ESA from 13,108 sq km to 9,993.7 sq km.

The nine grama panchayats that come under the ESA category are Kodenjeri, Nellipoyil, Kavilumpara, Thinur, Kedavoor, Chembanoda, Chakkittappara, Thiruvambadi and Puthupadi.

The scrutiny and survey should be completed by April 25 on an urgent basis. The verified cadastral maps and documents would then be handed over to the State Biodiversity Board, District Collector C.A. Latha said.

Second exercise

This exercise involving the villagers concerned follows an earlier one in January, when field reports submitted by panchayat-level committees had said that only about 20 per cent area in the nine grama panchayats identified by the Kasturirangan report in the district were ecologically sensitive.

The panchayat committees had supported their conclusion with individual maps of each panchayat clearly demarcating the landscape. The survey was done on the basis of a government order issued on December 21, 2013, to form five-member village committees in each of the 123 villages categorised as Ecologically Sensitive Area to rework the parameters set by the Kasturirangan report for ESAs. The order had left it to the panchayat committees to demarcate ESAs by conducting direct inquiries to list the number of sacred groves, hillocks, rocky and grass plains, forests, and so on after taking an extensive tour of their respective villages.

Environmentalists had agreed that the December 21 order to set up village committees was a re-call of the cardinal recommendation made in the widely criticised and officially discarded Madhav Gadgil-led Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report.

The Gadgil report had pointed out that local population, especially the grama sabhas, should finally decide the ESAs in their respective regions.