Terms environment ministry’s memorandum unconstitutional
Madhav Gadgil, chairman of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), has said that his report is far from “dead” and the unrest in the State is an aftermath of the “sabotage of democracy” caused by the denial of role to the local population, especially the grama sabhas, in decision-making.
“In both the Kasturirangan panel’s recommendations and the Environment Ministry’s memorandum there is not a word on the role of the grama sabhas in categorising areas as ecologically sensitive. The local population has no voice. This is unconstitutional,” Professor Gadgil told The Hindu over the phone on Monday.
Professor Gadgil said the memorandum was against the spirit of the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution, which envision local bodies to “perform effectively as vibrant democratic units of self-government”.
“The government’s denial of role to the local population and no mention of grama sabhas in the office memorandum is against the very object of the constitutional Amendments, which was brought about to empower the people at the grassroots to decide on the developmental and conservation activities in their own zones,” he said.
Article 243A of the 73rd Amendment prescribes that “a grama sabha may exercise such powers and perform such functions at the village level as the Legislature of a “State may, by law, provide”.
Professor Gadgil expressed anguish at how the memorandum was silent on the very existence of the grama sabhas.
The memorandum merely makes a general sweeping statement in paragraph 5, saying “all other major recommendations made by the High Level Working Group, particularly with respect to financial arrangements to incentivise green growth in the Western Ghats, participation of and involvement of local communities in decision-making, data monitoring systems especially the establishment of Decision Support and Monitoring Centre for Western Ghats, is accepted”.
This is when the Objects and Statement of Reasons for the 73rd amendment comments: “Though the Panchayati Raj Institutions have been in existence for a long time, it has been observed that these institutions have not been able to acquire the status and dignity of viable and responsive people's bodies”.
He points to Article 40 of the Constitution in which the Directive Principles of State Policy lays down that the State shall take steps to organise village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.
He said the WGEEP report, on the other hand, was “fully democratic”, allowing the people to decide the ecologically sensitive zone in their area.
“Our report was a starting point, until vested interests supported by the Centre and the State governments took over,” Professor Gadgil said.
He, however, said the WGEEP report “is not dead, it is alive. It is obviously stimulating a lot of thinking. During my recent visits to Kerala, there were so many people talking about it”.
“See it in this perspective: Our report was the first government panel report to state facts about the Western Ghats as they are and as per the principles of the Constitution. The Kasturirangan report, regretfully, was a whitewash as any other government report. Ours was the honourable exception,” Prof. Gadgil said.