The Karnataka Growers’ Federation (KGF), an umbrella organisation of planters’ associations in Chikkamagaluru, Hassan and Kodagu, and other like-minded organisations have given a call for a series of bandh in the three districts from Wednesday.
This is to protest against the draft notification of the Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) in Western Ghats issued by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. The Ministry issued the draft notification on July 6, inviting objections from States and stakeholders.
While several elected representatives have openly opposed the notification, many environmentalists are in favour of it and argue that its implementation was essential for the conservation and protection of the Western Ghats, a biological hotspot.
When this reporter interacted with planters and farmers of villages in parts of Hassan, Chikkamagaluru and Shivamogga districts, a majority of them appeared worried about the consequences of the notification, while a few are ignorant of it. By and large, those active in the planters associations and farmers’ organisations have been following up on the developments since March 2010, when the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel was set up with ecologist Madhav Gadgil as its head.
Several drafts notified
The panel submitted its report in September 2011. Later, the MoEF constituted a high-level working group in August 2012 under the chairmanship of K. Kasturirangan. The working group submitted its report in 2013. Since then, the MoEF has issued draft notifications five times, inviting objections. Whenever the issue is raked up, farmers have staged protests and registered their opposition by even boycotting local panchayat elections.
H.T. Mohan Kumar, president of KGF, said, “We are already facing many problems caused due to heavy rains and elephant menace. This will ruin our lives further. It is the planters and farmers in villages in the region who have not only conserved the Western Ghats but also widened the green cover over the years.”
A total of 20,668 sq m area spread over 1,572 villages located in 10 districts has been identified for ESA. “The ESA notification proposes to prohibit mining activity completely. We are not against banning either quarrying or mining. As of now, there are innumerable restrictions on us to extract sand from our backyard to construct a toilet. Imagine, what would be our plight if the ESA is notified,” wondered H.S. Sridhar, a planter at Hettur in Sakleshpur taluk.
No physical verification
A majority of the planters are unhappy with the way the ESA was identified. “They did not do the physical verification. Based on an aerial survey, they decided to consider all green patches as sensitive area. We, the planters have converted vast tracts of barren land into green land over the years,” claimed H.G. Devaraj, secretary of the Hettur Planters’ Association.
H.E. Nagabhushan, director of KGF, said the Western Ghats were never damaged by local public but government projects. “In the name of hydel projects, Yettinahole project, the government has cut thousands of trees. But, if we seek permission to remove shade in our estates, the permission is denied. When this is the situation, how can one accept the ESA notification,” he asked.
Naveen Karuvane, president of Koppa taluk unit of Raitha Sangha, said 22 gram panchayats of Koppa taluk had adopted a resolution opposing the report. “Hundreds of people have submitted applications seeking grant of land for cultivation purpose and residential purposes. A majority of the land in our taluks is part of either reserved forest or deemed forest. We are already struggling hard to get sites granted for Ashraya houses. If the area is notified as ESA, applicants will lose their right,” he said.
Environment activist Kalkuli Vittal Hegde took exception to the way the issue had been handled by the Centre. “This issue has been bothering the public for last 12-13 years. It is sad the government is not bothered about the objections raised by the public,” he said, calling for more consultation.
Not in Kannada
Many residents in the villages listed in the ESA draft notification are not aware of the document itself. When The Hindu interacted with people at Kadumane in Sakleshpur, a few people said they had not heard of it. Copies of the Kasturirangan committee report or the draft notifications have not been made available for the public in Kannada.