Mining lobby behind misinformation campaign: panel member

V.S. Vijayan, a member of the Madhav Gadgil Committee on the Western Ghats and former chairman of Kerala Biodiversity Board, said here on Friday that “the mining lobby and other vested interests were spreading canards about the Madhav Gadgil Committee report, which had not made a single reference against farmers or the people living in forest areas.”

Delivering the keynote address at a seminar organised on the committee report by the Kerala Congress (M), Mr. Vijayan said “in fact, the report argued from the side of the farmers and tribespeople . There was no proposal for relocation of any farmer or tribes from the forest areas. In fact, the report had suggested financial assistance for farmers who took up traditional and organic farming,” he said.

Dr. Vijayan said the right to implement the recommendations of the report was given to the local bodies. This was a completely decentralised decision done in a most democratic manner. The committee members were “experts who had worked for decades to study the issues of the Western Ghats. So the allegations that the committee had not studied the issue in detail during its 15-month term had no basis.”

Dr. Vijayan said government officials “had misinterpreted the recommendations to create confusion among the farmers in Kerala. “I have requested Chief Minister Oommen Chandy to hold meetings to discuss the recommendations of the report so as to remove the wrong impression created by the official briefing.”

He said the mining lobby in Goa was against the report because it recommended restrictions on mining in forest areas. He said the Gadgil Committee report had opposed the taking up of the Athirapally hydro-electric project in Kerala and the Gundia hydel project in Karnataka as it would have resulted in ecological damage of these important forest areas .“The report was not biased and was prepared in a most scientific manner taking into consideration the existing ground realities while protecting the remaining forest cover. The States of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka had lost 40 per cent of their forest cover since 1960s. Now only seven per cent of the original forest cover remained in these States,” he said.

Dr. Vijayan said the report believed that it was inappropriate to depend exclusively on government agencies to finalise the implementation of the report. “The fine tuning should be done by the local bodies.” The committee report said “no public land should be privatised and no Genetically Modified crops should be allowed in the country.” It was also against “change in land use from forest to non-forest except for agriculture.”

Referring to the ecological impact of the proposed Aranmula airport, Dr. Vijayan said socio-economic and environment impact assessment should be done before taking up such projects “The eco-system service value study had found that the people of Aranmula would lose between Rs. 339 and Rs. 445 crore worth ecological service value if the airport was constructed in the paddy fields,” he said.

Inaugurating the seminar, Thomas Unniyadan, MLA and general secretary of Kerala Congress (M), said “there was increased awareness among the people on the need to protect forests and environment. While protecting the forests and environment, one should take into consideration the high density of the population in the State.” He said “there was apprehension in the minds of people that if the Gadgil Committee report was implemented, it would dislocate farmers living in forest areas. This apprehension should be removed.”

K.V. Vijayadas, MLA; former Minister and Congress leader V.C. Kabeer; P.C. Joseph, chairman, Kerala Feeds; among others, spoke at the seminar. K. Francis George, former MP, was the moderator. Kerala Congress (M) district President K.V. Mani presided.

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