A visit by K. Kasturirangan, the head of the Ministry of Environment and Forests’ High Level Working Group (HLWG), to the Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra, where the HLWG chose to meet only the workers of political parties including the local MP of Congress, has come under fire from environment activists and organisations.

The working group was formed to examine the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) report prepared by the committee headed by eminent scientist Dr. Madhav Gadgil. The report was opposed by major political parties, including the Congress, claiming it will halt the region’s development. Industries Minister Narayan Rane has been highly critical of the report from the start and even organised a rally against its implementation.

The group’s decision to meet Mr. Rane’s son and the local MP Nilesh, and Mr. Rane himself, bypassing activists who are supporting the report has irked the locals, who have questioned the authenticity of such one-sided hearing.

The locals claimed they were not even informed about the visit and were purposely kept out from giving their submission to the group. “I have personally given [a] 10,000 page submission to the WGEEP report, a part of which was included in it. If they are reviewing the entire report, then the HLWG should have called me for hearing our side. I didn’t even know about his visit, as it was kept under dark,” said Dr. Vivek Bhide, one of the leading activists from the Konkan region who has been in the forefront in the agitations against power plants in the area.

Amjad Borkar of the Machhimar Kruti Samiti, which is opposing the proposed Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant (JNPP), said the working group was a “farce.”

As per the consultation process prescribed for the HLWG, the stakeholders may send their comments to it and if necessary the group would call them for meeting. The activists are however questioning the need to specifically meet Mr. Rane at a time when his opposition to the WGEEP report is well-known. A member of the HLWG however denied all the charges.

A member of the HLWG however denied all the charges. "The mandate of this visit was to meet people whom Mr. Gadgil had not met. Hence there was no question of meeting activists. The district collector made a presentation to us in the meeting and we met representatives of all the political parties," said a member of the group on the condition of anonymity.