Following the growing clamour to implement the Gadgil committee report after United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) conferred its much sought-after heritage status on Western Ghats in June, a high-level working group was formed recently.
But there is a catch: The group set up by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) comprises senior bureaucrats and academics, most of who are not connected to the Ghats in any way.
The nine-member working group has been formed to assess the recommendations made by ecological experts in the report.
No wonder that environment activists are miffed, alleging that this was a ploy to further delay the report’s implementation or worse, even dilute the report’s recommendations.
“Most members of the group are bureaucrats and academics, who have not done any work on ecological or livelihood issues in the Western Ghats,” said Ritwick Dutta, Supreme Court lawyer and environment campaigner.
“Also, they are all Delhi-based. Couldn’t the ministry find anyone who has been working to save the ecology of such a prestigious and biologically diverse region?” he added.
Sumaira Abdulali of Awaaz Foundation, who has filed a petition in the Bombay high court on the Sawantwadi-Dodamarg corridor in Western Ghats, echoes Dutta. She is unhappy over the ministry’s decision to appoint another committee to decide on what one of its own committees has recommended.
“Madhav Gadgil is a respected scientist, who has carried out consultations with all stakeholders while working on the report,” said Abdulali. “The state governments were a part of the original consultative process. I do not understand why it (the Gadgil Committee report) needs to be reviewed by another committee now. Even our application to secure the Sawantwadi-Dodamarg corridor is not acceptable to them (the MoEF).”
Gadgil, who came out with the report last year, said the working group should consult the committee on Western Ghats and other stakeholders over the report. “I have no misgivings about the constitution of the committee,” he said.
He added that two members Sunita Narain, director general of the Centre for Science and Environment, and Darshan Shankar, chairman of Institute of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, are prominent .
One has earned respect in the environment community and other has a record of conservation-related work in the Western Ghats, particularly in Maharashtra and Karnataka.
A secretary working with the MoEF, who is also a part of the committee, justified the formation of the committee. “The same process was followed even in the case of the new Coastal Regulation Zone norms brought out in 2011. We had two expert committees chaired by MS Swaminathan whose recommendations were studied by separate inter-ministerial and inter-governmental committees. We will be receptive to all stakeholders,” he said.