Citizens clarify doubts on Ghats conservation; maximum calls from Idukki

A helpline established by the Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB) for citizens to air their grievances and clarify doubts about the report of the High-Level Working Group (HLWG) on the conservation of the Western Ghats has received more than 3,000 calls since Monday.

KSBB chairman Oommen V. Oommen, who also heads the expert committee set up by the government to formulate the State’s response to the HLWG report, said the two landline numbers and one mobile number at the helpline facility had been ringing incessantly for the last three days. Three staff members at the KSBB office have been deployed to handle the calls and record the inputs. Helpline managers said the maximum number of calls was received from Idukki district. The majority of callers were farmers but there were also students and people from other walks of life. Most of them were concerned about losing ownership rights to their land once the Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs) earmarked by the HLWG were notified. They complained about officials refusing to register land transactions and accept land tax remittance. They also expressed concern about being refused bank loans. Some were driven by academic interest in the issue, officials said.

One 24x7 number

While the two landline numbers (0471- 2741134 and 0471- 2740235) function only during office hours, the mobile number 8943034833 is accessible round-the-clock.

Meanwhile, the KSBB has uploaded the Malayalam version of the HLWG report and its analysis on the official website www.keralabiodiversity.org. The report includes the recommendation of the HLWG; the parameters for demarcation of ESAs; recommended controls on development activities within ESAs; and strengthening of existing control mechanisms and proposed steps to combat climate change impact.

It also includes tables showing the districts, taluks, and villages coming within the ESAs, along with the area and population. The report is appended with a Malayalam translation of the office memorandum issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests on the HLWG recommendations. Dr. Oommen said the comparative maps of the ESAs marked by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) headed by Madhav Gadgil and the HLWG chaired by K. Kasturirangan would be uploaded on the KSBB website on Friday. This, he said, would help bring more clarity to the issue.