Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh on Sunday described the Gadgil panel report on the Western Ghats as the “roadmap” for conservation of the ecologically-sensitive hills and hoped it could be resurrected for a “dispassionate debate” once the heat and dust of the next Lok Sabha elections settled.

Speaking at a function here to present a Degree of Doctor (Honoris Causa) — conferred by the Central University of Odisha, Koraput — to Prof. Gadgil, the Minister said the report had been put aside without a proper public debate. Whatever little debate there was on the report, he added, had been “hijacked by a few political voices who had a vested interest.”

On Friday, the new Environment & Forests Minister M. Veerappa Moily had decided to put on hold the final notification of the Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) covering 59,940 square km of the hills to elicit comments of the chief ministers of the six affected states on the recommendations of the High-Level Working Group – chaired by K. Kasturirangan — on the Western Ghats.

Prof. Madhav Gadgil – who has on record criticised the Kasturirangan Report – had been appointed by Mr. Ramesh during his stint at the Environment & Forests Ministry to head the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel to assess the status of the Ghats and demarcate areas to be notified as ecologically sensitive.

Hailing Prof. Gadgil as a “Gandhian” and an “Arvind Kejriwal long before we had discovered Kejriwal,” the Minister said: “I still feel that the Gadgil panel report is the roadmap, the blueprint. It is not the last word. It should be discussed at gram panchayats, zilla parishads, vidhan sabhas.’’’

Referring to the controversy the two reports generated – particularly in Kerala which saw violence over the issue – Mr. Ramesh said that much of the apprehensions stemmed from ignorance and deliberate/mischievous misreading of the recommendations. “Had we been more open and more pro-active, perhaps much of this confusion could have been avoided.”

According to Mr. Ramesh, the purpose of setting up the Gadgil panel was to draw up a roadmap for ecological sustainability consistent with the needs of livelihood security and economic growth to meet aspirations of the people; particularly the youth.

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