Upset with the decision of the State Government to oppose UNESCO’s inclusion of the Western Ghats among the World Heritage Sites, environmentalists are accusing the Government of succumbing to pressure from the mining, timber and hydroelectric project lobbies.

Opposing the argument put across by Minister for Forests C.P. Yogeshwar, environmentalists say that any fear is unsubstantiated and that the Government can make use of the heritage tag for the benefit of the State. The environmentalists have appealed to the Government not to succumb to the alleged pressure from the mining, timber and mini-hydroelectric project lobbies, which, according to the environmentalists, are upset, “as their interests are at stake”.

Expressing his inability to fathom the opposition from the Government, Y.B. Ramakrishna, Chairman of the Karnataka State Bio-Fuel Development Board, said that the State would be benefitted with the new status.

“It is the duty of the Government to allay the unfounded fears of the people, as no new regulations will be imposed by UNESCO,” he said.

The former Chairman of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board H.C. Sharathchandra alleged that the mining lobby has for long been eying the Nellibeedu and Gangadikallu range in the Kudremukh area (which is one among the 10 sites that got the coveted tag). Similarly, without considering their impact, the Government had cleared mini-hydel projects, he said. The timber lobby which is active in the area is influencing the Government, he claimed.

Without understanding the importance of the heritage tag, politicians are opposing it, he said. “With the UNESCO tag, the Government can exploit the tourism potential of the Western Ghats, while protecting the region,” he said.

Conservation scientist Sanjay Gubbi said that there were no legal restrictions accompanying the tag and there is no need to be apprehensive of it. “It is not an issue to worry about,” he observed.

“The heritage tag should be considered as a blessing and not a curse,” said Praveen Bhargav, wildlife expert and former member of the National Board of Wildlife. Speaking to The Hindu, he said that the tag would not result in eviction and it was not a hurdle in the process of development, as feared.

“UNESCO will not enact any new laws, and the existing law of the land will prevail,” he said.

The process of identifying heritage sites was initiated in 2002 and the results were discussed in public. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, initiated the process. “I don’t know why the BJP Government is opposing the visionary decision of their own leader?” he asked.

Refuting the claim that the tag will obstruct development, he said that the Government which had failed in developing lakes will not lose anything by “sacrificing” 1,530-sq km area in the Western Ghats.

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