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)
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])
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.)
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.”