Idukki, Kerala: As the helicopter carrying Planning Commission member K. Kasturirangan failed to land here on Monday because of bad weather, local people were up in arms, saying the state government was playing truant.
Kasturirangan was to meet local people on Monday to ascertain the reasons for their opposition to the report of the Madhav Gadgil-headed Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, released last year.
Incidentally, Idukki district, with an area of 4,479 sq km, is the second-largest district of Kerala, with rugged mountains and forests covering about 97 per cent of the total area.
The district has a large number of people, including indigenous tribes, whose ecological conservation is the subject of the Gadgil panel report.
Local people fear that implementation of the Gadgil Committee report would be detrimental to their interests. Kasturirangan’s visit was scheduled as part of the process of hearing the grievances of local people.
Local CPI legislator ES Bijimol said: “This is nothing but a shortcut to implement the Gadgil report. Who does not know that in the mornings, helicopters would have a visibility problem in Idukki district? If the state government was serious about hearing people, the Planning Commission member would have arrived by road. After all, we are all here.”
Bijimol had earlier buttonholed State Water Resources Minister P. J. Joseph, who also hails from this district.
The representatives of the local people and officials of the state government on Monday held a meeting at which a crowd gathered, expressing resentment at being left out of policy planning for the area.
When people were told that Kasturirangan had left for Wayanad, and would arrive by helicopter on Tuesday to meet the people, the meeting ended.
A state government official, declining to be named, said that the fears of the people of Idukki were unfounded: The state government has already expressed its reservations over the Gadgil Committee report to the centre, and made it plain that it would not accept the report.
In November last year, the Idukki diocese of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church read out in all its churches in Idukki district a pastoral letter that termed the Gadgil-headed Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel Report as nothing more than an “international conspiracy”.
“In the name of environment, this is nothing but a sort of ‘terrorist activity’. This report means that a huge section of the farmers in this district will have to move out of their farm land. This report is part of an international conspiracy,” the pastoral letter said.
The Gadgil report zoned 75 per cent of the Western Ghats into different grades of ecological sensitivity.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has also expressed reservations on the report, terming many of the suggestions “impractical”. He said Kerala was opposed to the formation of a new Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA), a key recommendation, as the state could ensure protection of its environment within the provisions of existing laws.