Church of South India bid to find a common ground fails

The attempt on the part of the Church of South India (CSI) to find a common ground on ecological issues among various Christian denominations through a joint consultation here on Monday failed to produce results.

While most of the delegates reiterated their commitment to conservation and held that they considered the report of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) headed by Madhav Gadgil as a serious document, the Syro Malabar Church represented by the High Range Samrakshana Samithy reiterated its opinion that the report did not have people in their concern and that it was the result of an international conspiracy.

Inaugurating the consultation, Bishop (emeritus) Sam Mathew said man was the custodian of the environment he lived in and it was expected of him to handle it with care. “Mankind is a crucial link in a chain that comprises all beings of the ecology. Any attempt on the part of one link to weaken another would result in the destruction of the chain,” he said.

“A mobile tower coming up in the vicinity would have its bearing on the lifecycle of the trees nearby,” he said and pointed out that many of the birds that act as carriers for completion of the lifecycle would desert the area once a tower was constructed.

While implementing the Gadgil recommendations, the concern of the people of High Range should be addressed but it should not lose the spirit of the report, he said.

Inclusive development

V.S. Vijayan, member of WGEEP, in his presentation said the report was prepared with the concerns of the people in mind. The ultimate authority to decide on the issues involved was the local body concerned, he said.

“The recommendations are the answer to the process of development by exclusion providing a platform for conservation through inclusion,” Dr. Vijayan said.

He said the concerns of the local population had been addressed in the report. “There will be no translocation of the local of tribal population,” he said. The concerns of the farming community were also adequately addressed. The report called for special assistance to farmers during the transition period to switch over to organic farming. “The report had only a recommendatory value and it would not be implemented without the consent of the people,” he said.

The layered approach to identification of ecologically sensitive areas would provide for a practical approach to conservation, he said and added that local bodies had been entrusted with the right to take the final decision.

Sharing the cost

Rev. Sebastian Kochupurackal of the Syro Malabar Church, in his presentation, said the recommendations called for capping the rights of people living in a particular area for the benefit of those in other places. “The ecological concerns are common to all and as such all of us should bear the cost equally.” Any other move would only help to marginalise these sections, he said.

The implications for Idukki district would be disastrous, as the land issues in the district had not been settled so far Rev. Kochupurackal said. He alleged that the Gadgil report was part of an attempt to get the UNESCO World Heritage Tag which would benefit NGOs and the government at the cost of the interests of the lakhs of common people.

Mathew Koshy, director , CSI department of ecological concerns, chaired the session.

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