Right to Information
RTI success: Ministry of environment & forests uploads the damning Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel Report

On 23rd May, Moneylife wrote on how a Kerala citizen was denied access to Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel Report (WGEEP). The Central Information Commission and the Delhi High Court ordered the ministry to make it public. It has now been uploaded on its site

Just when one wondered whether the ministry of environment & forests (MoEF) would turn to the Supreme Court after the Delhi High Court on 17th May, upheld the order of the Central Information Commissioner (CIC) to make the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel Report (WGEEP) public, it came as a pleasant surprise that the RTI (Right to Information) route taken by a Kerala citizen to access this report bore fruit when the ministry promptly uploaded it on the website.
 
However, perhaps to keep the political bosses happy, the MoEF authorities have put a disclaimer on its website www.moef.nic.in stating: “The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report has not been formally accepted by the ministry and that the report is still being analyzed and considered by the ministry.”  The reason is obvious:  The WGEEP report submitted by the 13-member panel headed by noted Pune-based ecological expert Madhav Gadgil has damned the construction of big dams; the ongoing mining activities; the devastation of chemical industries on the fragile environment of Western Ghats that comprise 1,29,000 odd km stretching over six states (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat.).
 
What’s going to hurt the powerful developmental lobbies are the stringent recommendations made by the WGEEP in terms of making all the 142 talukas that come under the Western Ghats, into Environmental Sensitive Zones (ESZs) of three categories—ESZ I, ESZ II and ESZ III as per order of fragility. This translates into:  “Regions of highest sensitivity or Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1 (ESZ1); Regions of high sensitivity or ESZ2; and Regions of moderate sensitivity or ESZ3... A number of specific proposals received by the panel from individual Gram Panchayats as well as NGOs from different parts of the Western Ghats are referred to as Ecologically Sensitive Localities (ESL).”

 WGEEP recommends that no new dams based on large-scale storage be permitted in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1 as defined by the panel. Thus, the controversial Athirappilly and Gundia Hydel Project of Kerala and Karnataka respectively fall into the most sensitive ESZI category and WGEEP has recommended that the projects “should not be accorded environmental clearance.”
 
Similarly, for Goa, the WGEEP recommends “an indefinite moratorium on new environmental clearances for mining in Ecologically Sensitive Zones 1 and 2, phasing out of mining in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1 by 2016 and continuation of existing mining in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 2 under strict regulation with an effective system of social audit.”

The WGEEP has also cautioned about the environmental stress due to mining and chemical industries on the coastal plains of Maharashtra’s districts of Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg which fall outside the purview of the Western Ghats but were partially studied by the team. On the basis of this, it recommends that the mining, power production and polluting industries in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts should have “appropriate course of further development.”

For these districts, the panel recommends “an indefinite moratorium on new environmental clearances for mining in Ecologically Sensitive Zones 1 and 2, phasing out of mining in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1 by 2016 and continuation of existing mining in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 2 under strict regulation with an effective system of social audit.”

 “It also recommends that in Ecologically Sensitive Zones 1 and 2, no new polluting (red and orange category) industries, which would include coal-based power plants, should be permitted to be established; the existing red and orange category industries should be asked to switch to zero pollution by 2016, again with an effective system of social audit.”

 The WGEEP suggests that the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa should ‘immediately’ undertake the study of “various development activities in these tracts, ideally in conjunction with Raigad district of Maharashtra and the state of Goa.”

 The discomfort factor for powers that be across the six states is that, for all these three ESZs, the WGEEP has sternly recommended “large scale public consultations” before any project is undertaken. The panel report states: “In these zones, the panel recommends that development activity needs to be decided through a participatory process involving the gram sabhas” and broad guidelines have been also given to “extensive consultations with officials, experts, civil society groups and citizens at large.”

Noting a severe lacuna in the “deficit in environmental governance all over the Western Ghats tract” the WGEEP panel states it is very impressed with participation of locals, citizens and citizen groups in helping to preserve the Western Ghats environment in various places. The report observes: “The panel is impressed both by levels of environmental awareness and commitment of citizens towards the cause of the environment, and their helplessness in the face of their marginalization in the current system of governance. The panel urges the ministry of environment and forests to take a number of critical steps to involve citizens.”

Hence it suggests that: “The panel urges the ministry of environment and forests to take a number of critical steps to involve citizens. These would include: pro-active and sympathetic implementation of the provisions of the Community Forest Resources of the Forest Rights Act, establishment of fully empowered Biodiversity Management Committees in all local bodies” and various commendable programmes undertaken by different local self governments.

Predictably, the WGEEP report is not to the liking of the political and bureaucratic bosses as most of the times the so-called developmental projects are aimed towards an ‘influential’ instead for the good of the people at large.

The MoEF has invited the suggestions/objections of stakeholders’ comments/views are invited within 45 days from today (23rd March) on the following emails:  [email protected], [email protected]. The comments/views may also be sent by fax/mail.

These issues with the approval of the Competent Authority.

(Dr. Amit Love)

Deputy Director  
Telephone: 011-24362827
Telefax: 011-24364594

Email: [email protected]

 For the background of how this report went public, read the 23rd May story in MoneyLife http://www.moneylife.in/article/make-western-ghats-ecology-status-report-public-cic-hc-direct-govt/25853.html.

(Vinita Deshmukh is the editor of Life 365 (www.life365.in). She is also the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of a Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at [email protected])

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Public Interest Exclusive
Petrol Price Hike – II: Some ideas to fix the issue

We should demand better public transport, GPS-tracking device on government vehicles and using the power and reach of government fuel companies to think of larger social good

In the previous piece (http://www.moneylife.in/article/petrol-price-hike-ndash-i-some-people-should-be-celebrating/25952.html) I have talked about the deep vested interests that win each time petrol prices go up and wondered what is the way to fix it. Well, there are a few simple ways, and you can do your part by demanding that these be implemented. The problem here of course is that those who can and should implement this are the same who stand to lose the most because of points 1,2 and 3 above, but the time has come when something has to be done. Here are some ideas. Please do write in with yours.

1) A very strong move on making public transport better all over the country has to be pushed as a national agenda. People have to demand it as an electoral issue. This will include the removal of all taxes / permit fees / tolls / entry taxes / levies / octroi / haftaas / traffic zone point charges / etc. from basic public transport like stage carriages (city buses), non-air-conditioned 'chartered' buses, state roadways buses, non-air-conditioned school buses and pilgrim buses. Likewise, point-to-point share taxi/auto services will need to be promoted. Public transport has to be treated like a social good, not a revenue generator.

2) Mantri/santri/babu misuse of government vehicles has to come down. The path forward is very simple. All government vehicles, owned or rented, must be fitted with GPS tracking devices, and their movements must be visible for tracking on public internet with a 24-72 hour time lag. But we as citizens of India must be able to spot and follow online where the government vehicles are going—and ask questions if we spot them hanging around clubs, golf courses, schools, five-star hotels or similar. A device like this costs about Rs5-Rs6 thousand now, and is becoming compulsory fitment on auto-rickshaws and taxiis, why not for cars used by mantri/santri and babu?

3) The adulterated fuel lobby and business is the strongest of the lot, and the most difficult to cure, as well as one which faces the maximum social resistance because so many people down the line also depend on it for their livelihood. It is also the one industry where the actual threat to those who stand up against it is the most. However, if public transport improves, then at least to some extent in urban centres, there should be a resultant fix. That remains the only hope.

And how does one get the most important component—the oil companies, to support? An anecdotal experience will help. In the power and water shortage affected areas of North West Karnataka, on a back-road in the cashew plantation areas, I came across a public sector filling station which had installed solar power options for feeding electricity to the lights, fans and dispensers. Literally in the middle of nowhere, this filling stations with no help from their parent oil companies, had figured out that it made sense to use solar power instead of diesel for gensets. Maybe this sort of common sense will filter up to their head offices too, soon?

(Veeresh Malik had a long career in the Merchant Navy, which he left in 1983. He has qualifications in ship-broking and chartering, loves to travel, and has been in print and electronic media for over two decades. After starting and selling a couple of companies, is now back to his first love-writing.)

 

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COMMENTS

Guptan Veemboor

5 years ago

Here is one idea. It is not mine but that of someone else. To it is a good idea to reduce congestion in the centre of cities and to reduce private vehicles slowing public transport.
Make parking fees in central areas of cities excessively high. Strictly prohibit parking on road side and make it law that only at designated parking lots only parking can be done. Tow away any illegally parked vehicles.
It can reduce traffic problem to certain extent.

REPLY

Ratanlal Purohit

In Reply to Guptan Veemboor 5 years ago

GREAT IDEA.
IT WILL BE CHEAPER TO STOP WITH A DRIVER.
NO PARKING NO STOPPING?
MORE PETROL FOR KEEP MOVING.
SINGAPORE CBD REQUIRES SMART NAME PLATES.
ALLOW ONLY REVA LIKE IN LONDON. ITS INDIAN. TAKES SMALL SPACE. NON POLLUTING. DOESNT GUZZLE PETROL.

JF

In Reply to Guptan Veemboor 5 years ago

Not sure but I believe some countries use the system of "odd" and "even" number plate vehicles to run on the roads alternately, to curb pollution and traffic menace. This system if implemented in India would be just great...

P Sandeep

5 years ago

Hi.

Excellent suggestions all,I'd say point # 2 is difficult to implement because of security concerns(even with the time lag) + concerns over yet another scam on procurement for the GPS units ! I'd suggest that every Govt vehicle be fitted with CNG.Comments ?

REPLY

malq

In Reply to P Sandeep 5 years ago

CNG is certainly a good idea, but availability is limited to some towns/cities only. What sort of security implications are there for the average 95% of mantri/santri/babu going about their usual non-work please?? And the cost of GPS operated tracking devices is going down daily . . . rgds/VM

JF

5 years ago

Wonderful article - needs to be widely publicized to awaken and enlighten the citizens of India who then can make it an election issue nation wide.

REPLY

malq

In Reply to JF 5 years ago

Thank you for writing in JF, and please do spread it far and wide! thanks/VM

Ratanlal Purohit

5 years ago

Dear Veereshji
I like your Suggestions, but wonder how to break the Steel frame. Who will implement. Definitely not the Stealing Community.
And GPS. It is in your mobile. Track the babus and their cars. They may be moving in different directions.
From this cheap gadget tracking cars it can be deployed on trains. In Bangalore I understand buses are fitted. PETROL TANKERS CAN MONITORED. GOODS TRAINS CAN BE MONITORED FOR UNSCHEDULWD UNLOADINGS. AND BETTER STILL TRAIN ACCIDENTS CAN BE ELIMINATED.
VEERESHJI GOOGLE EARTH CAN HELP. IF IT CAN NAVIGATE 26/11 WHY NOT US.
ALL THE BEST

Guptan Veemboor

5 years ago

This happened many years back. And this was told to me by a friend who worked in a government office in Delhi. It was a time when there were no GPS which one could hold in one's palm. In his office the head of the office regularly misused the office car. It used be more or less like his personal car used by the whole family. Every day the officer's wife used to go to the market for purchases in it. Two of his staff was angry with him as he used to get angry with them. They wanted to catch him on some wrongdoeing of his. They knew of this misuse of the office car. They went with a camera, not digital ones of now but the old film click. They took the photo of the officers wife getting out of the car and then getting in with the purchases with the number well seen in the shot. The took the prints of the shots and next time the officer got angry with them gave him one print. There were no more firing. Babus can be straightened easily. But to unbent a politician is not that easy.

pravsemilo

5 years ago

Today on my drive to office, I was thinking about point 1 and when I reached office I read your article. Bit coincidental.

I am from Hyderabad and stayed in Chennai for 5 years. I used public transport during my stay at Chennai and I have to say that it is one of the best that I have had.

At Hyderabad, people prefer their own vehicles - guess it is due to people's tendency to spend more on their vehicles compared to those at Chennai. Audis and BMW's are common sight here. Almost every one has a two wheeler.

Due to this the state of public transport is here in shambles. We have a very cheap local train service - but that is left unused. The buses are very old, crowded and infrequent in service.

This causes an additional burden in terms of traffic as there are more vehicles on the road and in fact traffic at Hyderabad is not really well managed. In fact people here don't have much respect for the traffic police - one can break the signal and run away. The traffic police will be left behind yelling in the dust.

I indeed miss the covenience that I had at Chennai. I plan to write about this to the concerned authorities. Hope things will change.

REPLY

malq

In Reply to pravsemilo 5 years ago

Thank you for writing in.

We have to make this an electoral issue. Keep asking asking asking our elected representatives. Something like that is slowly happening in Delhi.

I agree, Chennai is also doing well, have been seeing this from the early days of Pandayan Tpt in Madras city, mid '70s.

rgds/VM

anantha ramdas

5 years ago

I live in Bangalore and have regularly seen military vehicles being used to collect and drop children to their schools. It is possible that these children live in military cantonments/barracks and vehicles are spared to take children back and forth for safety. This may be even acceptable, provided the cost of such facility is shared by the staff who utilizes the same?

REPLY

malq

In Reply to anantha ramdas 5 years ago

Well, I presume you are talking about buses and trucks being used to transport children, that would not ever occur without proper authorisations.

Or are you talking about staff cars being used for this? That's something . . . which needs to be looked into.

rgds/VM

Sachin Purohit

5 years ago

Nice article. Especially I liked #2 suggestion. I myself know police officer who used to come to private parties and weddings in police van (that too with his entire family!)

REPLY

malq

In Reply to Sachin Purohit 5 years ago

Thank you Sachin Purohit, and you could help by spreading this idea around, especially to those coming to seek our votes.

rgds/VM

Public Interest Exclusive
Is the Supreme Court avoiding a RTI query on Abhishek Singhvi CD row?

Noted RTI activist Subhash Agrawal raises serious issues concerning alleged immorality in appointments to the higher judiciary—an issue that has also agitated a lawyers’ body

Delhi-based Subhash Agrawal, also a well known Right to Information (RTI) activist has requested the Supreme Court, to take suo moto cognizance of media reports about a compact disk (CD) involving senior lawyer and Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
 
“Supreme Court should take sue-moto cognizance of media reports about some CD which is alleged to have a sting on a leading politically influential lawyer allegedly in a chat with some lady advocate offering his influence in assisting her for being appointed a judge in a high court through some give-and-take offer,” Mr Agrawal said.
 
Mr Agrawal says in a release to the media that since it is a serious matter relating to the appointment of judges, “the apex court should order an enquiry directly under its supervision”  and verify the CD through an independent laboratory of repute (may be a foreign one) to check if the CD is doctored or not. He says, this is necessary, because the prime accused in the FIR (first information report) lodged with the police has allegedly entered into a ‘compromise” with the prominent lawyer who figures in the CD.
 
In this connection, Mr Agrawal has raised several questions through his RTI application. They are:
 
1.      Has the Honourable Chief Justice of India and/or other/s concerned at Supreme Court taken cognizance of widespread media reports (including also on social network websites) about a CD involving leading advocate and Parliamentarian Shri Abhishek Manu Singhvi, where even some mention of interference in judicial appointments is also reported on social network sites?
 
2.      If yes, complete and detailed information on action taken on the complete episode and to verify authenticity of the referred CD, and also for an independent probe in the complete matter especially in order to clear air about judicial appointments
 
3.      Is a copy of the referred CD been made available with any concerned one at Supreme Court?
 
4.      If yes, complete and detailed information on action taken to verify authenticity of the referred CD mentioning also if the said CD has been sent to any laboratory for analysis, and name of the laboratory where the CD is sent for analysis
 
5.      Complete and detailed information on action taken on each and every aspects of my submissions dated 20 April 2012 “Is CD relating to a leading lawyer authentic” also e-mailed at Supreme Court (copy enclosed for ready reference)
 
6.      Name/s of person/s having recommended name/s of Anusuya Salwan, Abhinav Vashisht, Rajiv Virmani, Meenakshi Arora and Mahinder Acharya as judges at the Delhi High Court (subsequently sent for review by Honourable Chief Justice of India Justice SH Kapadia) as also referred in enclosed news report “Kapadia for review of Delhi High Court move on five new judges” (IANS 01.06.2010)
 
7.      Any other related information
 
8.      File-notings on movement of this RTI petition as well
 
According to Mr Agrawal the Chief Public Information Officer (CPIO) declined to provide information on query no1 to 4 and 6 on grounds that he was asking to authenticate some news reports. He said, “In an earlier RTI response, the CPIO had confessed about a system at the Supreme Court that takes cognizance of news reports. Therefore, my query in plain English was if the enclosed news report was taken cognizance or not at Supreme Court.”
 
In his first appeal to the Registrar and Appellate Authority of the Supreme Court, Mr Agrawal said, “Since query numbers 2 to 4 and 6 also emerge from query no 1, I appeal that the learned CPIO may kindly be directed to provide information to these queries as well but with sought and related documents.”

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