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Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)
Friday, 07 September 2018 10:23

KERALA: CONSERVATION UNDER ATTACK IN THE WESTERN GHATS

HAVING completed demarcation of Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA) for the conservation of the Western Ghats, Kerala is in turmoil with vested interests having the upper hand among the ruling and opposition circles.

The High Level Working Group headed by K Kasturirangan had earmarked 13,108 sq km in 123 villages as ESA in Kerala. Following widespread protests – orchestrated by political parties with vested interests – in the high-range districts, the state government convinced the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to exclude 3,117 sq km of settlements and agricultural land from the ESA. Following directions from the Ministry to fine tune the ESA maps prepared by the Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB), the government ordered another round of field verification. Four villages in Kottayam district were taken off the ESA list. The Save Western Ghats movement feels that the decision to earmark only protected forests as ESA would be disastrous for the Western Ghats. It signals the beginning of the end for this fragile ecosystem threatened by encroachments, illegal quarrying and unauthorised constructions.

Under impact of opportunist political trends, environmental issues have fallen off the political agenda. The stiff resistance to the recommendations of the Madhav Gadgil Committee and even the much diluted the Kasturirangan Committee show that both the ruling and opposition parties have capitulated to vested interests for short-term gains. The decision to exclude settlements and agricultural land from ESA was taken to assuage the feelings of the farmers who perceived a threat to their land and livelihood, probably because of a misinformation campaign by vested interests. But even this compromise was used by vested interests to vitiate the atmosphere. Things took a turn for the worse after Congress-led UDF and CPI(M) like political parties started exploiting the volatile situation to their benefit.

The government’s decision to earmark only protected forests as ESA is short-sighted and will prove to be costly for the state. Vested interests had used farmers as a cover to whip up feelings against the recommendations of the committee and create a fear psychosis in the high ranges. The protests were organised and not spontaneous and political parties including the Congress and the CPI(M) used the vitiated atmosphere to enhance their appeal and create vote banks, while the BJP government at the Centre merely paid lip service to conservation of the Western Ghats. The Save Western Ghats movement is mobilising public opinion for conservation – an uphill task. Kerala crisis arose due to destruction of ecologically-sensitive zones in Western Ghats. 

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