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Public consultation on Western Ghats a sham: report

Local residents interviewed for the citizens report onWestern Ghats knew nothing about what an ESAdemarcation would entail. File photo: K. Murali Kumar

Local residents interviewed for the citizens report onWestern Ghats knew nothing about what an ESAdemarcation would entail. File photo: K. Murali Kumar  

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Counted among the world’s top biodiversity hotspots, the Western Ghats is currently at the centre of a political battle pitting local ‘development’ needs against conservation efforts. Six States — Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat — which the forest region encompasses, were supposed to submit recommendations to the Centre on demarcating Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA) here by July 31, but only Kerala and Goa did so.

Meanwhile, a citizens’ report compiled by campaign organisation Jhatkaa released last month has exposed the sham in the name of public consultations organised by the State governments while framing recommendations. On August 3, 22 Members of Parliament who met Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar spoke overwhelmingly in favour of protecting local ‘development’ needs and demanded that activities such as sand quarrying be allowed to continue.

Colonel Muthanna, president of the Coorg Wildlife Society, who contributed to the citizens’ report, told The Hindu that 30 per cent of Kodagu comprises forests, with the area contributing 50 per cent of the total inflow into the Cauvery river. Sand mining on river banks has taken a toll on local water supply.” But early this year, when the Karnataka government held a public consultation to discuss ESA demarcation, a group of local political leaders shouted them down, not allowing them to speak. “Along with local residents, I submitted a memorandum to the sub-committee holding the hearings that we wanted the recommendations of the Madhav Gadgil committee report, giving priority to gram sabhas in the decision-making process, implemented. But the voices of the timber lobby and builder’s lobby, with high stakes in the tourist business in Kodagu, prevailed.”

A key finding of the citizen’s report is that local residents interviewed for the report knew nothing about what an ESA demarcation would entail. Many feared that if a particular village is designated as ESA, the villagers will be relocated or they will be deprived of access to basic facilities, such as water supply or electricity, though both the Madhav Gadgil Committee report and the Kasturirangan Committee report, suggest nothing of that sort.

Koraga tribe member Susheela Koraganad of Udipi is quoted in the citizen’s report as saying that the government refused to provide copies of both the Committee reports in Kannada, which might have helped them understand its recommendations better. Tania Devaiah, Jhatkaa’s online campaigner, said that both Mr. Javadekar and Environment Secretary Ashok Lavasa have not responded to the citizen’s report and the concerns raised by it. The lack of transparency in the consultation process is further exposed by the fact that the MoEF did not respond to a Right to Information query filed by Ms. Devaiah on June 17, seeking details of the ongoing consultation proceedings, despite public authorities being required to respond to RTI queries within one month from the date of receipt of the query. Despite queries made in both writing and over telephone, the MoEF did not respond to The Hindu on this subject.

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Printable version | Nov 22, 2019 9:21:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/public-consultation-on-western-ghats-a-sham-report/article7508688.ece

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