Chairman of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) Madhav Gadgil has said that he and other panel members will not keep quiet if the government decides to discard the panel’s report in the wake of propaganda against it.

Speaking at a debate on the Gadgil report organised by the Jilla Paristhithi Samithi (JPS) and the Western Ghats Protection Committee (WGPC) here on Wednesday, Prof. Gadgil said that the major thrust of the report of the panel headed by him was a critique of the way development and conservation were forced on people without their consent. He said Athirappally Hydro-electric Project proposal was one of the case studies the report gives to show this. The project is not scientifically, economically and ecologically feasible, he said.

“We said in our report that we should not conceive conservation plans without the consent of the local people,” said Prof. Gadgil. He said that the report in no way imposes restrictions on local people as it is giving an objective statement about corrupt practices in the Western Ghats area. The committee’s mandate was to identify the ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs) in the Western Ghats and to recommend environment-oriented development and conservation strategies to be followed, he noted.

Speaking on the panel’s commitment to hearing people’s proposals for the conservation of the Western Ghats, he said 25 grama panchayats in Maharashtra came up with their proposals.

The WGEEP clearly recommended that the grama panchayats give proposals as to what developmental and conservation activities they wanted. The panel also proposed positive incentives for conservation activities including organic farming and protection of ‘sarpa kavus’ (sacred groves) in Kerala, he noted.

Referring to the major differences between the Gadgil report and the Kasturirangan report, Prof. Gadgil said that while the former meticulously followed the mandate given to it and made recommendations that considered conservation of both land and water resource in totality, the latter speaks only of protecting areas of natural landscape. The Kasturirangan report completely ignored the original mandate given to the Gadgil committee, he stated. The Gadgil panel he headed wanted people’s aspirations on conservation and development to be taken on board, while the Kasturirangan report questions the ability of the local community to take decisions on conservation issues, Prof. Gadgil said. If the Kasturirangan panel report was accepted, the local community would be completely sidelined, he added.

Vinod Payyada of WGPC presided. T.P. Padmanabhan of Society for Environmental Education Kerala, D. Surendranath of Janakeeya Prathirodha Samithi and Bhaskaran Vellur of the JPC were among those present at the function.

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