Among the various agendas of political parties this poll season, environmental issues seem right at the bottom. Or what else can explain the reluctance on their part in implementing the suggestions of two expert committees on protecting the fragile ecology of the Western Ghats. The ghats should be of prime concern as they play an important role in breaking rain clouds over the state but the fear of losing votes has ensured that the two key players — Congress-led UDF and CPI (M)-backed LDF —have just skimmed over the issue in their manifestoes.
Implementation of the suggestions has become all the more challenging in Wayanad and Idukki districts, where churches have taken up the cudgels for the reluctant villagers.
A few years back, following mounting concern that the ecology of the Western Ghats, a UNESCO heritage site, was under serious threat due to human interference, the union government had set up an expert panel under ecologist Madhav Gadgil. In 2011, the panel recommended that 63% of land be declared ecologically fragile. Following opposition, a working group was constituted under former ISRO chief Dr Kasturirangan, which made some changes in the zonal classification and reduced the fragile area to 37%.
Still, villagers remained hesitant as ever fearing that they would be dislocated and their livelihood stolen. Palaniappan, a farmer, said, “They have to shoot us before acquiring our habitat.”
Activists said parties have played a key role in stoking the fear. “Parties are exploiting the sentiments of poor people rather than discussing these reports for their good,” said N Badusha, environmental activist from Wayanad.
“We fully support conservation but it should be done with a humane touch,” said chief minister Oommen Chandy, adding that the state would oppose mass-evacuation of people from fringe areas of the forest.