A development strategy involving people is what the Kerala Government should look at as part of rebuilding a new State in the aftermath of the devastating floods, says Madhav Gadgil, whose report exactly seven years ago was ignored due to political and land mafia pressures.
Gadgil told Pennews that Kerala has had a history of such experiments and cited the case of People's Planning in the mid-90s which later got abandoned.
It is his magnanimity that makes him assert that he was not a much-hated person in Kerala till the floods. As head of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, his report which called for the protection of the entire hill range as Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) was misinterpreted by certain sections and political groups succumbed to pressures from vested interests and forced the Centre to shelve the report and in its place came the Kasturirangan report which, Gadgil says, was most unscientific.
On wide acceptance of his report now in Kerala, he says, those who opposed it then may have been converted. There are umpteen laws for development engaging people like the 73rd and 74th Amendment to the Constitution empowering local self-governments to decide the development course. There is also the Biological Diversity Act giving people the right to manage local diversity. There is also the Forests Rights Act, though limited to some areas. There are democratic devolutionary processes. Unfortunately, these are either being given a short shrift or hurdles were being created. This has to end. It is not the lack of rules and laws, but failure to implement them, he points out.
“Development can be only through engaging people. The practice followed till now of bureaucrats deciding matters has to be stopped when Kerala starts its rebuilding exercise,” he says.
Gadgil recounted his experience in the 70s when he was in Wayanad as part of elephant census. There, locals were more efficient in guiding him than forest officials. The same was his experience when as part of Western Ghats study he had to interact with people of Athirappilly who were against building a dam there. “Locals should have a say in whether they want or do not want a quarry or a dam in their place. It is for local people to decide this,” he says.
He feels that with Kerala's experience in people's planning, there is sufficient scope for the State to “serve as a laboratory for fashioning development programmes compatible with conservation”. The narrow concept of development should be abandoned. While the flood caused huge damage, it was that of human-made capital. While looking at rebuilding this damage, he points out that the Government needs to look at the loss suffered to natural, human and social capital.
On dams and flood in Kerala about which heated debates were on, Gadgil, who was in Kochi for the last two days at the invitation of the Indian Lawyers Association, said there was the need for collection of scientific data and this had to be made public. Prima facie, the simultaneous release of water from the dams did cause flood. It is the rule that any reservoir should be full only at the end of the monsoon. He said that river research centres should be involved in these studies. Also, all data on rainfall and forecast should be available in public domain and in simple terms understandable to general public.
About the view that the Kasturirangan report being a watered down version of his, he said Kasturirangan never ever consulted him and the report was not only unscientific and but also did not acknowledge people's participation in local development, something guaranteed by the Constitution.
On views that it was not practical to implement the recommendations of his report, Gadgil wanted the proponents of this theory to explain whether corruption and violation of laws were the only practical solutions. A sustainable inclusive development plan focusing on ecology with people's committees who would rightfully prepare environment impact assessment studies should chart Kerala's new development map and there have been such experiments attempted which were reasons for hope, said Gadgil.