Withdraw the Order on HLWG (Kasturirangan Committee) Report
The following is the text of the press statement issued by the All India Kisan Sabha on November 20: THE All India Kisan Sabha strongly condemns the office memorandum dated November 16, 2013 issued by the ministry of environment and forest, accepting ‘in principle’ the High Level Working Group (HLWG) popularly known as the ‘Kasturirangan Committee’ Report and restricting agricultural and basic developmental activities in 4156 villages in the Western Ghat region. We demand immediate withdrawal of the same. The authoritarian manner, in which the order was issued, without considering the objections and suggestions made by the peasants and various other sections of the people, is highly objectionable. The HLWG under the leadership of Dr Kasturirangan, formed to “submit an Action Plan to implement the WGEEP (Western Ghat Ecological Expert Panel popularly known as the Madhav Gadgil Committee) Report in the most effective and holistic manner”, and also to examine the Report keeping in view the “needs and aspirations of the local and indigenous people” has failed to address the grievances raised by the peasants and other toiling sections living in Western Ghat region. In the context of the two reports having contradictory recommendations, unilaterally choosing one over the other has only led to pitting precarious human livelihoods in the region against the ecological sensitive nature of the region as though people who have lived for generations in the region are wilful destroyers of the fragile ecosystem. Both the reports ignore the fact that the people in these regions have been the most effective conservators and have coexisted with as well as actively protected the wildlife and biodiversity of the region. The reports are at best a bureaucratic exercise without any democratic approach and are also not grounded on scientific assessment of the human-environment relationship in the region. The AIKS demands that a scientific assessment by a broad-based committee of social scientists, environmental experts, organisations of the peasantry and with adequate representation of the varied political opinions from the affected states be set up to look into the matter. Broad based consultations and public hearings with the people and all stake-holders must be held before arriving at a Comprehensive Plan for Protection of Fragile Ecosystems and Livelihoods. Unmindful of widespread protests, the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has now hastily initiated steps to operationalise Kasturirangan Committee’s recommendations declaring 4156 villages in six states (99 in Goa, 64 in Gujarat, 1576 in Karnataka, 123 in Kerala, 2159 in Maharashtra and 135 in Tamilnadu) as Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ) and thereby restricting agricultural and basic developmental activities in the region. The declaration of the ESZs, basing revenue villages as the demarcation, is also unscientific. The recommendations of the WGEEP on land use, prohibiting use of land for any purpose except for extension of village settlements for increasing populations, in the ESZ which have been endorsed by HLWG, is now by this order accepted by the government of India. This will restrict even facilitation of basic amenities like hospitals and schools to the people of this most backward region. This is not at all acceptable. Restriction of agricultural activities by banning monoculture plantation which may include coffee, prohibiting chemical fertilisers, mandatory organic farming etc are unacceptable. All these recommendations are now accepted by the ministry by its order on November 16 hence the claim by union minister Jayanthi Natarajan that there is nothing in the order that adversely affects the farmers is baseless. While reiterating its deep commitment to the protection of environment, the AIKS rejects the approach of considering the environmental question demarcating it from humanity and civilization. Environmentally sound development cannot prohibit livelihood and economic options for the people of the region. In its recommendations, the WGEEP Report failed to address the socio economic aspects of the issue. Both the reports did not study the impact of the degradation of environment in the life of various social sections. They failed to suggest fruitful solutions to protect life and crops of peasants by solving the man-animal conflicts in forest border areas, to conserve flora and fauna in protected area, and preserve paddy fields and water bodies in the entire Western Ghats. The AIKS rejects the approach of categorising the peasantry at par with the mining and forest mafia as the destroyers of the environment. The AIKS believes that peasants are always in the forefront in protecting the environment. The government of India should understand that the support and conscious intervention of the local peasantry and local people are crucial for the protection of Western Ghats. The decision of the MoEF to accept the HLWG report in principle has led to widespread protest in these states. AIKS supports the agitations by the people against the anti-peasant, anti-people recommendations of both the reports and calls upon all its units to join the protest actions. The AIKS demands that the MoEF discuss with the peasant organisations and all others concerned and drop the anti-peasant, anti-people recommendations in both WGEEP and HLWG Reports and take a holistic approach and plan of action to protect the Western Ghats. The doubts and insecurities in the minds of people of the region have been created by the state and central governments and effective steps have to be taken to reassure the millions of people that their livelihood security will be ensured and genuine developmental activities in their habitats will be promoted.