Why re-examine the Gadgil Committee report on Western Ghats?

Even as the deadline for inviting comments on the report of Dr Kasturirangan-led HLWG ended today, former secretary EAS Sarma had questioned the motive in re-evaluation of the Gadgil Committee report on Western Ghats

 
EAS Sarma, former secretary of the Government of India (GoI), has questioned the appointment of another committee, a high-level working group (HLWG) under the chairmanship of Dr Kasturirangan to evaluate the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel Report (WGEEP) submitted by the Prof Madhav Gadgil Committee.
 
In a letter written to Jayanthi Natarjan, minister of state for environment and forest, the former secretary has questioned the motive behind the constitution of new committee to revaluate the exhaustive report of the Gadgil Committee. “Many of us felt distressed and distraught when your ministry had constituted yet another committee, this time under the chairmanship of Dr Kasturirangan, member of Planning Commission, to re-evaluate the Gadgil Committee report. How is that committee more qualified to question Gadgil Committee’s studies? Did it not result in wasting the tax payer's money?” he said.
 
Mr Sarma said, “In fact, on the same lines as HLWG, I had earlier requested you to set up a similar expert committee to evaluate the threats to the Eastern Ghats. Perhaps, sensing opposition from your colleagues who are clearly in league with the crony capitalist promoters of industry, you have preferred not responding to my appeal,” Mr Sarma said in the letter.
 
After orders from the Central Information Commission and the Delhi High Court, the ministry of environment & forests (MoEF) in May 2012 published the WGEEP report on its website. The reluctance of the ministry was obvious.
 
The WGEEP report submitted by the 13-member panel headed by noted Pune-based ecological expert Prof Gadgil has damned the construction of big dams; the ongoing mining activities; the devastation of chemical industries on the fragile environment of the Western Ghats that comprise 1.29 lakh odd km stretching over six states (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat).
 
What was hurting to the powerful developmental lobbies were 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. 
 
Here is the letter sent by Mr Sarma...
 
To
Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan
Minister of State (Environment & Forests)
Govt. of India
 
Dear Smt. Natarajan,
 
Subject:- Why re-examine the Gadgil Committee report on Western Ghats? How is the new Committee competent to undertake such a re-examination?
 
I refer to the comprehensive report submitted by the Committee constituted under the chairmanship of Prof Madhav Gadgil (HLWG report) and the report of yet another committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Kasturirangan to re-evaluate the HLWG report.
 
Having interacted with Prof Madhav Gadgil in one session while he was in the process of formulating his views on Western Ghats a couple of years ago, I thought that there could be no better person than him to evaluate the ecology of the Western Ghats and recommend measures to protect it. The Committee under his chairmanship had gone about in a systematic and professional manner and come up with suggestions that would save the Western Ghats and its resources for the posterity. I felt disturbed when MOEF had displayed inexplicable hesitation in releasing that report. It was under intense public pressure that your Ministry had to place the report in the public domain.
 
Western Ghats are rich in biodiversity and the health and the well being of their ecology will determine the future of that region for centuries to come. As a result of indiscriminately set up industrial and mining projects, the ecology of that region has already come under a serious threat.  The region cannot bear any additional stress. If at all, the stress that already exists may have to be reduced.
 
In fact, on the same lines as HLWG, I had earlier requested you to set up a similar expert committee to evaluate the threats to the Eastern Ghats. Perhaps, sensing opposition from your colleagues who are clearly in league with the crony capitalist promoters of industry, you have preferred not responding to my appeal.
 
Many of us felt distressed and distraught when your ministry had constituted yet another committee, this time under the chairmanship of Dr. Kasturirangan, Member of Planning Commission to re-evaluate the Gadgil Committee report. How is that committee more qualified to question Gadgil Committee's studies? Did it not result in wasting the tax payer's money?  Apparently, the Gadgil Committee report would hurt the interests of several corporates and, therefore, is unpalatable to the rulers of UPA! The way the HLWG report has so far been handled by the Prime Minister, the Planning Commission and MOEF confirms my strong feeling that most decisions of UPA are dictated these days by crony capitalists who seem to permeate the system like never before!
 
What worries me most in the latest report (Kasturirangan's) is that it contemptuously dismisses the role of the people at the grass-roots in economic decision making. The authors of the latest report seem to be oblivious of the fact that the Indian Constitution begins with the words, “We, the people of India...” Ours is a democratic system. The authority that is implicit in the Constitution emanates from the people. The Gram Sabhas are a Constitutionally created entity. The real wisdom and the knowledge about the ecology of any region rest in the local communities. To think that the ultimate wisdom rests with the Planning Commission, or the South Block, or Paryavaran Bhavan, is to delude oneself.
 
I feel pained to read the letter written by Prof Madhav Gadgil to Dr. Kasturirangan on the latter's report. I have enclosed a copy of that letter for your ready reference. I am sure that several persons among the civil society have also written to you, expressing their concerns.
 
I realise that MOEF has fixed a ‘deadline’ for submitting comments on the report and it so happens that today is that deadline! When the ecology of the country comes under the threat of crony capitalism of the worst kind, these deadlines have no relevance.
 
I fully endorse what Prof Madhav Gadgil has said in his letter to Dr. Kasturirangan. I wish Dr. Kasturirangan and his colleagues in his committee had the courage and conviction to tell MOEF that they would not re-evaluate Prof Gadgil's report.
 
I request MOEF to reject Dr. Kasturirangan Committee report and, instead, accept HLWG report without any hesitation. The sooner that MOEF does this, the greater will be its credibility as a body obligated under Article 48A of the Constitution to protect the environment of this country.
 
I am confident that you will accede to this appeal unhesitatingly.
 
I have marked copy of this letter to the Prime Minister and Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission, hoping that they would introspect on what I have said here..
 
Regards,
Yours sincerely,
 
 
EAS Sarma
Former Secretary to GOI
Visakhapatnam
 
Separately, Prof Gadgil in an open letter to Dr Kasturirangan pointed out that out that the WGEEP report has advocated a graded approach with major role for grassroots level inputs to safeguard the Western Ghats. On the other hand, the HLWG rejected the framework and advocated partitioning of the natural and cultural landscapes. 
 
Prof Gadgil said, “This is like trying to maintain oases of diversity in a desert of ecological devastation. Such fragmentation would lead, sooner rather than later, to the desert overwhelming the oases. It is vital to think of maintenance of habitat continuity, and of an ecologically and socially friendly matrix to ensure long-term conservation of biodiversity-rich areas, and this is what we had proposed”. 
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