The World Heritage tag for the Western Ghats will not only hamper development in the region but also provide a fertile ground for expansion of naxal activities, said Minister for Forests C.P. Yogeshwar.
A total of 39 sites in the Western Ghats have won the World Heritage tag at a recent meeting of the World Heritage Committee held at St. Petersburg in Russia.
Addressing presspersons here on Wednesday, Mr. Yogeshwar said the tag would prevent the State government from constructing houses, roads, bridges, power plants and taking up other developmental activities. He feared that thousands of families would lose their source of livelihood as a result of the heritage tag.
Of the 39 sties, 10 are in Karnataka. They are: Kudremukh National Park, four wildlife sanctuaries (Someshwara, Pushpagiri, Brahmagiri and Talacauvery), and five reserve forests (Padinalknad, Kerti, Someshwara, Agumbe and Balahalli).
The Minister added that lack of development in the region would fuel anti-social activities. The number of naxalites would increase if the government is not allowed to take up welfare programmes in the region, he said.
Opposing the Centre’s unilateral decision to support the World Heritage tag, the Minister said compensation amounting to Rs. 10 lakh per family was inadequate to rehabilitate people residing in the forest areas, and there was no land available for rehabilitation. Several families had planted areca nut, coffee and other crops to generate income, he said.
Noting that several Central and State government acts related to forests, biodiversity and conservation of tiger and bird sanctuaries in the State, were overlapping each other, he said all the protected areas and reserve forests are governed by the Wildlife Protection Act and the Forest Conservation Act. The activities in these areas are regulated by these laws. The Madhav Gadgil report, which studied the ecology of the region, has recommended the constitution of a Western Ghats Authority to safeguard the region, Mr. Yogeshwar said.
The tag would only promote eco-tourism in the region, he said. Besides Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra too have been opposing the World Heritage tag.
Kerala had already said it cannot accept the recommendations of the Madhav Gadgil report as most of its suggestions were impractical and said the State could protect its environment within provisions of existing laws.