Kerala’s rebuilding exercise lacks a 'green’ touch, given the efforts to dilute an already diluted Kasturirangan report. The latter report was literally watering down the Gadgil one of the Western Ghats Expert Panel.
With the Ministry of Environment and Forest asked to issue a fresh notification on the ecological sensitive zones in the Western Ghats on the basis of the Kasturirangan report, the Kerala Government seems to sense ‘victory’, though it is against the protection of ecologically fragile lands. However, several development activities like construction will not be allowed in such zones.
The MoEF was directed by the National Green Tribunal late last week to issue a fresh notification in six months. The ministry has agreed to consider Kerala's stand, though there is no likelihood of diluting rules regarding construction activities as ordered by the tribunal which looked into the matter in the aftermath of the recent flood in Kerala.
Kasturirangan report had initially mooted 123 villages to be under Ecologically Fragile Land (EFL) in Kerala. However, Kerala has sought reducing this to a mere 94 villages. While Kasturirangan had through the High-Level Working Group mooted bringing 37 per cent of Western Ghats under the three Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ), the Gadgil report mooted 64 per cent.
According to the Kasturirangan report, a total of 13,108 sq km in the State was to declared ecologically fragile. This would mean no construction or quarrying in these areas.
Protests after the Centre made notifications in this regard in 2013, saw the Congress-led UDF and CPM-led LDF oppose it.
Finally in 2014, the State Assembly passed a resolution unanimously asking the Centre to exempt populated and agriculture and plantation areas from the the purview of ESA.
In February 2014, a draft notification was issued bringing down the ESA in the State to 9,993.7 sq km of which 886.7 sq km would be non-forest area.
Kerala expects further shrinkage when the final notification comes and had not only opposed the Gadgil report but even the Kasturirangan one. Space scientist Kasturirangan had found fault with the Gadgil report on grounds that a human angle was not considered, saying culture too was relevant.
The flood sent a scare among all in Kerala with calls for implementing the Gadgil report. But the authorities appear to be least concerned. This was best exemplified during the debate at the special Assembly session last week when contrary to what the Government had been trying to project as part of rebuilding Kerala, a few MLAs went unbridled in their flights of fancy.
Devikulam MLA and CPM leader S Rajendran,who received little public support when he opposed a struggle by women workers in Munnar estates, said it was not possible to surmount nature's fury by simply issuing stop memos to construction, including resorts. He also said the 1924 floods swept away lots of people and there were no dams then, nor concrete buildings.
LDF-supported legislator from Nilambur PV Anwar outdid Rajendran. Forgetting that his water theme park had violated all norms and even flouted Kerala High Court directives, Anwar said landslides occurred deep in the forests and how could environment activists explain that, especially with no earth movers in operation in those areas.
Thomas Chandy, who had to go out of the LDF ministry, following charges of land encroachment and reclaiming a lake in Kuttanad, championed large scale mining of Vembanad Lake which he felt was filled with silt from the rivers in Pathanamthitta.
Surprisingly, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan who admonished a CPI legislator for genuinely demanding higher compensation for the flood-affected people, never uttered a word against any of the three.
Worse still, party veteran and Pinarayi's bete noir VS Achuthanandan was the only speaker during the whole session who spoke with a vision. But that too was not acknowledged, giving clear hints that 'green’ is still anathema to this Government.