Green activists accuse party of not only stooping to garner votes but also playing to the tunes of industry lobby
In an obvious bid to make electoral gains from the confusion and commotion in Kerala over the the Madhav Gadgil and Kasturirangan Committee reports on the conservation of the Western Ghats, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has promised to stop implementation of the recommendations of the reports if the voters in the country help the party’s candidates to win the coming Lok Sabha elections. The party made this promise among many other promises in its election manifesto released by general secretary Prakash Karat in New Delhi on March 20.
Regarding the Western Ghats conservation, the manifesto has also promised that a broad-based expert committee will be set up to study the issues involved. The proposed committee will prepare a comprehensive plan for the protection of fragile eco-systems in the Western Ghats and people's livelihoods through public hearings and wide consultations with stakeholders. According to the manifesto, representatives of all stakeholders, including people’s representatives, environmentalists, agriculture scientists and social scientists, will be included in the new committee.
People in eco-sensitive regions of the Western Ghats in Kerala, mainly farmers in the high range districts of Idukki, Wayanad and some parts of Kozhikode districts have been agitating against the reports ever since the Union Ministry of Environment and the Forests (MoEF) accepted the recommendations of the Kasturirangan committee report in October last year. Booth the committees were constituted by the MoEF. First Gadgil committee in 2010, and then the Kasturirangan committee in 2012, to suggest ways to protect the Western Ghats, one of the eight biodiversity hot spots in the world, which is being destroyed and degraded due to indiscriminate encroachment, mining, quarrying, timber smuggling and sand mining.
People in the environment sensitive area (ESA) identified in Kerala by the Kasturirangan Committee fear the implementation of the report will adversely affect their daily life, livelihood, rights over property and development activities in the region. The agitations are led by Syro Malabar Catholic Church and the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic front.
In Idukki, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) has gone to the extent of fielding Joyce George, lawyer of the High Range Protection Council, an activists' body led by a few priests from the Church fighting against the implementations of the reports, as its independent candidate for the forthcoming elections. The church was hitherto a traditional supporter of the Congress-led United Democratic Front, the ruling front in the state.
“CPI(M), being a Left party, is expected to extend its support to protect the environment but it is not doing so,” points out C R Neelakandan, a noted environmentalist in Kerala. “Besides votes, money is also a factor. The manifesto is evidence that the CPI(M) is tied up with the quarrying, timber smuggling and sand mining mafia. This causes great concerns,” says he. Initially when the protests against the reports started in Kerala, a few CPI(M) leaders such as V S Achuthanandan had raised their voices against the party’s stand against the implementations of the recommendations of the reports. However, those voices have subsided, says he.
Even organisations like Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), a people’s science movement which is pro-CPI(M), had taken stand supporting the Gadgil Committee recommendations. "There is no change in our stance so far. However, we will be holding a meeting to discuss the issues in the wake of the manifesto and the MoEF’s notification to exclude more than 3,000 sq km from the ESA in Kerala, " says KSSP president N K Sasidharan Pillai.
“The party’s stand is that it cannot accept the Gadgil Committee report, the Kasturirangan Committee report, and even the report by the state panel that recommended exclusion of large areas from the ESA identified by the Kasturirangan committee. Nobody can say the Western Ghats should not be conserved. That is why the party said in the manifesto that it would constitute a new panel,” says Pillai.
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