The BJP’s vociferous pro-Gadgil stance has been worrying the Congress party in the State which is trying to pacify stakeholders in the high ranges

The visit of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy to New Delhi last week and his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar appears to have given some hope to those opposing the Madhav Gadgil Committee report on protecting the Western Ghats.

Mr. Chandy says the Prime Minister and the Environment Minister has given assurances that a final decision on the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) report will be taken only after considering the views of all stakeholders.

However, what worries the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government is the belligerent stance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is in power at the Centre. The party has been vociferously demanding the implementation of the Gadgil committee report that studied the ecologically fragile forested mountain ranges that stretches from Kerala to southern Gujarat.

More significant is the position of its parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which has adopted a resolution at a meeting in Kochi seeking implementation of the report. In fact, of the two resolutions passed at the meeting attended by top RSS leaders including Sarsanghachalak Mohan Bhagwat, one was on the Gadgil report and the other on internal security. Now it has to be seen whether a BJP-led government at the Centre will deviate from a resolution endorsed by the RSS national leadership.

Adding to the woes of the Congress party is also the stance of its leader P.T. Thomas, a no-nonsense former MP from Idukki, who was denied a seat by the party High Command under pressure from the Church for batting for the Gadgil committee report.

The Gadgil committee has faced stiff opposition from many States. But even a diluted report prepared by the K. Kasturirangan panel seems not to have pacified some stakeholders. On the other hand, environmentalists are peeved at what they allege is the State government’s surrender before pressure groups and land mafia. They believe that even educated people have been misled by rabble-rousing politicians and that the government has done pretty little to educate the people on the need to protect the Western Ghats.

Support as strategy

Suddenly every Congress leader in the district, who were loath to be seen in the company of A.P. Abdullakutty, MLA, during the entire Lok Sabha poll campaign, are walking on eggshells on ‘solar scam’ accused Saritha S. Nair’s allegations of sexual abuse against him. The change of heart appears to have been triggered by the beleaguered MLA’s heartrending narration of his travails in the wake of ‘fabricated’ media stories targeting him.

What could have stirred the Congress leaders in the district, including senior leader K. Sudhakaran, to suddenly rush to the MLA’s defence? Congress leaders in private will portray this public appearance of the party leaders in defence of the MLA as a strategy to counter the media speculation that Mr. Abdullakutty is under pressure to step down so that Mr. Sudhakaran can contest from the constituency in a byelection.

If one were to go by Congress circles, there is fear among the leaders that any move against Mr. Abdullakutty might prove counter-productive after his appearance on television and public outpouring of his woes, which might have won him some sympathy from the masses.

The Congress leadership, insiders say, is watching the course of the police investigation into Saritha’s charges will take in the days to come. What if Mr. Abdullakutty is forced to resign? A senior party leader went metaphorical while explaining the situation: “The tree may or may not be uprooted in an impending storm but nobody wants to be seen as having caused the tree’s capitulation. They will, however, rush in to cut its branches and trunk once the tree falls.”

On autopilot

Kerala has been going to great lengths to promote its tourist potential and now ambitious plans are in works as part of the ‘Mission 676’ initiative of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. However, it appears that the government has forgotten a small detail: that its Directorate of Tourism has no skipper. The post has been remaining vacant for the past three months after S. Harikishore, a 2008 batch IAS was transferred as District Collector, Pathanamthitta, when the Lok Sabha elections were announced. The directorate was already handicapped by the absence of a fulltime Additional Director (General) and all the work that goes with the post was being handled by the Additional Director (Hospitality). Now, with both the top posts remaining vacant, the responsibility of manning almost the entire directorate has fallen on this non-IAS cadre official. This has also meant additional burden for Suman Billa, Secretary, Tourism.

Apparently, the political executive is keen on bringing back Mr. Harikishore to the post. Their efforts, the government insiders say, have got stuck in bureaucratic hurdles. The Assembly session begins on Monday and questions relating to the tourism sector need to be answered. By all available indications, any decision on a new incumbent may have to wait.

Bogeymen

Blaming it on the Western Ghats reports for all that is going wrong in the high ranges appears to have become the favourite pastime of politicians and the media in Idukki. The district had witnessed several hartals over the issue. Now all those opposed to the Gadgil-Kasturirangan reports have found a huge conspiracy behind a ‘stop memo’ issued by the Mining and Geology Department to the Kattappana Block panchayat authorities.

The department issued the memo when it found that the Block panchayat was mining and quarrying for constructing and office-cum-shopping complex at Irupathekkar on the Kattappana-Kottayam State High Way.

Besides issuing the memo, the department also ordered seizure of earth movers from the site.

The High Range Protection Council, spearheading the anti- Gadgil, Kasturirangan stir, was soon on the streets alleging that the memo was part of the government’s bid to implement the Kasturirangan panel report. Soon other political outfits also hit the streets.

The following day, the Director of Mining and Geology issued a statement clarifying that action had nothing to do with the Kasturirangan report.

The seizure of earth movers was done under the Kerala Minor and Mineral Concession Rules, 1967, by the Idukki district office of the Mining and Geology Department as proper clearance had not been obtained from the department for mining earth from the locality. “How can we close our eyes to illegality even if it is being committed by a local body? Wouldn’t our silence lead to much larger questions,” asked an official of the department.

But neither the High Range Protection Council nor the local units of major political parties appear to be in mood to listen. Where fear reigns, everybody seems to be waiting for the first available opportunity to indulge in scare mongering and reap political dividend from it.

With inputs from Biju Govind (Kozhikode), Mohamed Nazeer (Kannur), S. Anil Radhakrishanan (Thiruvananthapuram) and Giji K. Raman (Idukki)