Caught in usual paradox, National Advisory Council (NAC) member Madhav Gadgil, has launched a campaign to push the environment ministry to make his report on Western Ghats public.
Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh had appointed Gadgil as head of an expert panel to recommend measures to protect Western Ghats -- one of the country's most diverse biodiversity areas.
The aim was to declare no development or ecologically sensitive zones in Western Ghats covering three states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala. Gadgil held detailed discussions with all stakeholders including scientists on the new norms.
"With great sincerity we did our job," Gadgil said. "We conducted very wide ranging consultations with civil society, all state governments, environment ministry officials, elected representatives ranging from Gram Panchayat members to MPs and Ministers and CMs".
After a work of about two years, he submitted his report to the ministry on August 30, a month after Jayanthi Natarajan replaced Ramesh as an environment minister. Gadgil, who has served in the Sonia Gandhi headed NAC for the second term, was assured by the ministry that the report will be released in a function on September 19.
That did not happen.
The ministry sent the report to the state governments for their comments even though Gadgil's report contained their views and that was the initial reason cited for not releasing the report. "We have not received comments of all state governments," an environment ministry official explained.
The ministry even denied information about the report in RTI applications on the ground that it contained information that can jeopardize India's economic interests. But, information watchdog the Central Information Commission rejected such claims as the ministry had failed to justify its claim and asked the ministry to place the report on its website by mid-May.
The ministry has decided to move Delhi high court against the CIC order, which wanted the ministry to become more open and transparent. "Most public servants find the idea (of transparency) alien and also one that challenges their power and wisdom," information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said in his order.
Hurt by the ministry's dogmatic view, Gadgil has taken an unusual step. He is using Gandhi's order to create awareness that how the ministry was preventing his report from being made public and blocking public debate on an important environmental issue. The veteran environmentalist also believes that no policy decision on environment can be taken without larger public consultation, which the environment ministry has tried to shun.