Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has said that the State government is confident of solving the concerns of the people of the State about the K. Kasturirangan committee report by convincing the Centre about the need for changing some of its “adverse” recommendations.
Inaugurating a seminar to evaluate the report, organised by the Kerala Union of Working Journalists and the Forest Department here on Monday, the Chief Minister said that on a parallel level, there was a need to change certain misconceptions that had crept into the minds of the people of the Western Ghats villages about the implications of the report.
He said there was no doubt in his mind that there were problems in the report. For instance, of the four villages recommended to be notified as ecologically sensitive area in Kottayam district, three had only plantations and no forests as such.
He noted that the Madhav Gadgil panel report on the Western Ghats had originally recommended notifying 653 villages in the State as ecologically sensitive area. That was because places were selected on the basis of taluks, which covered a large area with several villages and, therefore, even villages far removed from the forest areas happened to find a place on the list when there were other villages with forest cover within the same taluk. This discrepancy got removed in the Kasturirangan committee report, which amended the recommendations of the Madhav Gadgil panel report, because it adopted “village” as the basis for deciding if an area should be considered ecologically sensitive. He said the number of villages being recommended for being notified as ecologically sensitive had come down to 123 in the Kasturirangan report.
Mr. Chandy said even out of these villages, only 24 would actually qualify to be notified as ecologically sensitive areas, if their population were to be taken into consideration. The specification in the report itself was that the population of a village thus notified should be below 100. In fact, 99 of the villages recommended to be notified in Kerala had a higher population.
Mr. Chandy said it should be possible to look at the ground-level situation in each village on the list and segregate the really ecologically sensitive area from the area under human habitation. “I am confident of sorting out all these issues,” he said.
He said one big reason for the fears in the minds of the people was that they interpreted the term “ecologically sensitive area,” used in the Madhav Gadgil and the Kasturirangan panel reports, as something in meaning similar to “ecologically fragile land,” used in the Kerala Forest (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile Lands) Act, 2003.
He said there were complaints (about the way this Act was implemented), which even he, as the Chief Minister, had not been able to set right. In the case of the proposed Central notification relating to the Kasturirangan committee report, the implementing authority would be the District Collector or the Revenue Department and not the Forest Department. “The people have come to dread the forest laws and also the department,” he said.