No government could implement projects such as the proposed airport at Aranmula disregarding public sentiments against it, especially in aspects of nature conservation, food security and socio-human capital stocks, Madhav Gadgil, ecologist and chairman of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), has said.
Prof. Gadgil, who was in the district on a tour to Aranmula and Chembanmudy, was talking to reporters at the PWD guesthouse at Aranmula on Thursday.
He said violation of land and environment conservation laws was evident at Aranmula and Chembanmudy. “Water, a vital resource, is abused the most in the name of development. Freshwater sources are the worst affected owing to little understanding of their management, leading to serious impact on the natural water sources at Aranmula,” he said.
Prof. Gadgil said it was wrong to think of GDP as a measure of economic progress. “We have to look at growth in terms of the four capital stocks and they are industrial capital, natural resources capital, human capital, and social capital,” he said.
Unfortunately, the governments considered only the industrial capital, disregarding the importance of the other three in the development of the country, he said.
A balanced development was needed, instead of overexploitation of natural resources. He said many construction works in the country were on the basis of sheer speculation. The local people should be empowered in the decision-making process.
Prof. Gadgil said, in the case of Aranmula, even the study report of the State Legislature Committee on Environment was being ignored, which could never be considered a democratic practice.
He said 232 acres of excess land identified at Aranmula should be distributed among the landless. Even the stance of the grama sabhas was not considered in the case of the Aranmula airport. The 10 grama sabha meetings at Aranmula panchayat had opposed the airport project.
Prof. Gadgil said the government support for the private airport project at Aranmula was uncalled for.
Addressing the meeting, V.S. Vijayan, former chairman of the Kerala State Biodiversity Board, said as many as 11 lakh houses constructed across Kerala were lying vacant.
Dr. Vijayan said the majority of MLAs had opposed the project that would be detrimental to the environment.
He said the intangible annual benefit of the ecosystem from every hectare of land at Aranmula had been estimated at Rs.22,24,950 and the government had failed in considering this factor while extending support for the project.
Kummanam Rajashekharan, Aranmula Heritage Village Action Council chief patron; Peelipose Thomas, AICC member; Malethu Saraladevi, KPCC member; and T.R. Ajithkumar, BJP district president, were present.
Prof. Gadgil visited the Aranmula puncha and the granite quarries at Chembanmudy in Ranni taluk and Kalanjoor in Konni on Thursday.
Addressing a public meeting at Athikkayam in Naranammoozhy panchayat in Ranni taluk after visiting Chembanmudy, the tallest hill in the district where the villagers have been staging agitation against granite quarrying for the past 232 days, Prof. Gadgil said the grama sabha was the supreme authority in the Indian democratic system to take a decision on any matter concerning the respective panchayat ward and no official had the power to undo it.
Prof. Gadgil said unscientific mining had badly affected the streams originating from the Chembanmudy hill and not to speak of its adverse impacts on the natural resources and health of the people as a social capital. He said certain essential mining laws were found to have been violated at Chembanmudy.
He said the people of the Chembanoly ward in Naranammoozhy panchayat needed to be congratulated for becoming a role model to the rest of the country by passing a resolution at the grama sabha banning all sorts of mining activity in the panchayat ward a year ago.
He said the allegedly illegal quarrying had resulted in a serious decline of social capital. The responsible quarters appeared to have sidelined the social cost of granite mining in the area and the spreading of cancer and lung ailments in the locality should be taken in all its seriousness.
Prof. Gadgil said the quarry owners who constituted only a minority were being economically benefitted with the granite quarrying. But, who would compensate its socio-economic cost was a question that warranted serious introspection, he said.
He said the 232-day-old agitation by the villagers, above all socio-political considerations, was a major achievement.
Peelipose Thomas, People’s Acton Council patron, presided over the meeting.
Kummanam Rajashekharan and Dr. Vijayan also addressed the meeting.
Prof. Gadgil addressed a public meeting at Kalanjoor also where the Janakeeya Pratirodha Samiti has been waging an agitation demanding closure of illegal granite quarries in the panchayat limits.
K. Santhoshkumar, samiti convener, presided over the meeting.