Ecologist Gadgil takes former ISRO chief Kasturirangan to cleaners

Monday, May 20, 2013, | Agency: DNA

Attacks report on Western Ghats as favouring rich and powerful illegalities.

Well-known ecologist Madhav Gadgil has now joined many environmentalists in attacking former Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) head K Kasturirangan‘s high-level working group (HLWG) report on the eco-sensitive Western Ghats, saying it endorses “exploitation.” The Padma Bhushan awardee architect of Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel (WGEEP) report, Gadgil, has torn into the report saying it favours the “rich and powerful of the country and of the globalised world.”

The former ISRO chief had been roped in by the Ministry for Environment and Forests (a move which amazed many given his zero experience in the field of environment and forest management) to head the 10-member HLWG. This panel was asked to advise the Centre on how to conserve the Western Ghats.

Comparing his own report with that of the HLWG, Gadgil says in his letter, “Based on extensive discussions and field visits, we had advocated a major role for grass-roots level inputs for safeguarding the ecologically-sensitive Western Ghats. You have rejected this framework and advocate a partitioning amongst roughly 1/3rd of what you term natural landscapes, to be safeguarded by guns and guards, and 2/3rd of so-called cultural landscapes, to be thrown open to development, such as what has spawned the Rs 35,000 crore illegal mining scam of Goa,” and adds “This amounts to attempts to maintain oases of diversity in a desert of ecological devastation. Ecology teaches us that such fragmentation would lead, sooner, rather than later, to the desert overwhelming the oases.”

Gadgil also reminds Kasturirangan of how the WGEEP had underlined the importance of habitat continuity maintenance, and of an ecologically and socially friendly matrix to ensure long-term conservation of biodiversity-rich areas. He further says, “Freshwater biodiversity is far more threatened than forest biodiversity and lies largely in what you term cultural landscapes.  Freshwater biodiversity is also vital to livelihoods and nutrition of large sections of our people. That is why we had provided a detailed case study of Lote Chemical Industry complex in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, where pollution exceeding all legal limits has devastated fisheries so that 20,000 people have been rendered jobless, while only 11,000 have obtained industrial employment. Yet the Government wants to set up further polluting industries in the same area, and has therefore deliberately suppressed its own Zonal Atlas for Siting of Industries.”

Gadgil is most critical of the way Kasturirangan’s report “shockingly dismisses our constitutionally guaranteed democratic devolution of decision-making powers, remarking that local communities can have no role in economic decisions,” and says, “Not surprisingly, your report completely glosses over the fact reported by us that while the Government takes absolutely no action against illegal pollution of Lote, it had invoked police powers to suppress perfectly legitimate and peaceful protests against pollution on as many as 180 out of 600 days in 2007-09.”

Pointing out how “India’s cultural landscape harbours many valuable elements of biodiversity,” he cites the instance of lion-tailed macaque, a monkey species confined to Western Ghats which thrives in the tea gardens. “I live in Pune and scattered in my locality are a many banyan, peepal and gular trees; trees that belong to genus Ficus, celebrated in modern ecology as a keystone resource that sustains a wide variety of other species,” Gadgil bringing the personal to the realm of the eco-social. He says, “Through the night I hear peacocks call and can see them dancing from my terrace,” and underlines, “It is our people, rooted in India’s strong cultural traditions of respect for nature, who have venerated and protected the sacred groves, the Ficus trees, the monkeys and the peafowl,” while bemoaning efforts to snuff it out. “This reminds me of Francis Buchanan, an avowed agent of British imperialism, who wrote in 1801 that India’s sacred groves were merely a contrivance to prevent the East India Company from claiming its rightful property.”

Gadgil ends his letter on a rather scathing note. “It would appear that we are now more British than the British and are asserting that a nature-friendly approach in the cultural landscape is merely a contrivance to prevent the rich and powerful of the country and of the globalized world from taking over all lands and waters to exploit and pollute as they wish while pursuing lawless, jobless economic growth. It is astonishing that your report strongly endorses such an approach. Reality is indeed stranger than we can suppose!”


Panel for ban on mining in 37 % of Western Ghats #goodnews


Identifying 37 per cent — or about 60,000 square km — of the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive, a high-level panel has recommended that “destructive” activities such as mining, thermal power, major construction, and some hydel power projects should not be allowed there.

However, the panel was silent about any restrictions in the remaining 96,000 square km area, thus creating the perception that it had diluted earlier recommendations that the entire Ghats should be declared as an eco-sensitive area.

The panel, headed by space scientist and Planning Commission member K. Kasturirangan, which submitted its report to Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan on Wednesday, was initially set up to review the more stringent recommendations of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) headed by ecologist Madhav Gadgil.

The Gadgil report had wanted the entire area of the Ghats to be graded into three levels of eco-sensitive zones, each of which would have different restrictions. It had faced uproar from State governments and industries which were alarmed by the curbs on development in almost 70 per cent of the biodiverse range of mountains spanning six States.

The new high-level panel has taken a different approach. Taking advantage of Dr. Kasturirangan’s connections with ISRO, it has used satellite data to produce a far more detailed database, with a resolution of 24 square metres as opposed to the 9 square km used by the Gadgil report. It then used remote sensing technology to distinguish between “natural landscapes” and “cultural landscapes” which include human settlements, fields and plantations.

It recommends “a prohibitory regime on those activities with maximum interventionist and destructive impact on the environment” on about 90 per cent of the area of “natural landscapes”. The four major restrictions in this area would be a total ban on fresh mining and a five-year phase-out of current mining, a ban on thermal power, all “red” category industries, all townships and any construction above 20,000 square metres. Hydel power projects will be allowed subject to certain conditions, in stark contrast to the Gadgil recommendations, and a small window of hope has been provided for the future of the controversial Athirapally hydel power project in Kerala. Also, the land-use change restrictions recommended by the WGEEP have been discarded.

Explaining that restraints cannot be imposed on areas where people already live and work, the report argues: “It is not wilderness area, but the habitat of its people, who share the landscape with biological diversity. It is not possible to plan for Western Ghats, only as a fenced-in zone, with no human influence.” Instead, the report called for incentivising green growth in the “cultural landscape” areas.

After submitting the report, Dr. Kasturirangan said the next step must be to focus on the biodiversity that is still left. “It is imperative that we protect, manage and regenerate the lands now remaining in the Western Ghats as biologically rich, diverse, natural landscapes. We have reached a threshold from which we cannot slip further,” he said.

WGEEP panel member and TERI executive director Ligia Noronha feels this is not the right approach. “The Western Ghats are not just about what is left. We should be protecting the whole of the Ghats. That is why we wanted a gradation of zones, a more nuanced approach to eco-sensitive zones. [The Kasturirangan panel] seems to have gone back to the mindset of carving out certain protected areas, rather than keeping the whole ecosystem in mind,” she says.

However, Kasturirangan panel member Sunita Narain, who also heads the Centre for Science and Environment, said that their report was actually “implementable..Senior Environment Ministry officials quietly agreed, expressing the hope that the “more sensible” recommendations would attract less opposition from the States.

Ms. Narain also pointed out that the Kasturirangan panel had left the ball firmly in the Central government’s court.

“We want to ensure effective protection right now, not in ten years’ time,” she said.


Immediate Release-Lavasa Case : Medha Patkar Demands Resignation of Sharad Pawar



Sharad Pawar should Follow Ajit Pawar and Must Resign


New Delhi, October 19 : Lavasa is in the air again. Corruption of one politician after another in nexus with the builders and corporations are getting exposed. The scandals which were already investigated and prosecution initiated also are to be re-viewed in the renewed context and taken to a conclusion. Illegalities and corruption in Adarsh Housing Society, Lavasa Hill City project, Hiranandani Garden, Shivalik Devlopers Golibar project, etc are some of those excavated by the National Alliance of People’s Movements after years of persistent struggle, digging out of documents, analyzing those, challenging them in ministries, Courts and mobilizing the people directly affected on the ground.


In case of Lavasa, politician of the stature of Sharad Pawar and his family members, Supriya Sule and her husband Sadashiv Sule have invested crores of rupees and erected more than 250 buildings in the Mosey River Valley without the legally mandatory clearance from the center in close collaboration with the Lavasa City Corporation. 26% of the shares of Lavasa Corporation Ltd, were owned by Supriya Sule and her husband when these illegalities and irregularities occurred. They can claim their innocence since they sold their shares, but the fact remains that they benefitted from this illegality and equally share responsibility when the corrupt and illegal land diversions took place. They used their political influence to benefit LCC and accord all clearances.


The deal involves large scale transfer of 3,300 acres of land, in violation of ceiling laws, EIA notification and other laws by government of Maharashtra to Lavassa Corporation. The land includes Krishna Valley Dev. Corporation (141 hectares), ceiling land supposed to be allotted to the landless (907 hectares), and an additional ceiling land acquired for Lavassa (273 hectares), illgeally acquired from adivasis and OBC communities, in complete violation of law. The claim made by Mr. Sharad Pawar that some of the land was under water, in response to the allegations by Mr. Y.P. Singh, the advocate in the case filed by the National Alliance of People’s Movements and other voluntary organizations, is half truth. He conceals the fact that diversion of the land once acquired for the reservoir and already submerged could not be done to a Corporation for reclamation or any other use. The land on the bank of the reservoir with water partially reserved for the Pune City, was also allotted to Lavasa Corporation. A number of cases where farmers lands were obtained by a number of dealers / agents, for meager amounts, and many other fictitious land deals took place, but ultimately mutated in favour of Lavasa.


In addition, illegally cutting off hills and rocks, building river bunds in the back waters exhibiting a political expediency and the interference lead to gross violations of lawm which was ultimately proved and accepted by MoEFNone else, but Mr. Sharad Pawar the Union Agricultural Minister, then and now, as well as Late Sri Vilasrao Deshmukh, former chief Minister of Maharashtra, were responsible for by passing the objections raised by certain middle level officials as the documents indicate. Mr Pawar has often termed this as his ‘dream project’ and which has also been hailed by many as the way to build private cities and hill stations. A town built violating all the norms, is that the way to build future cities ?


A People’s Commission of enquiry into the Lavasa scandal was appointed by NAPM, with Senior Advocate Sri. Y.P. Singh, Sri. Arvind Kejriwal, Advocate N.D. Suryavanshi, and Sri S.M. Mushrif (Telgi Scam Fame – Former IG of Mumbai) as members. NAPM unearthed the documents and also collected the Primary data; however, following the report brought out by the Commission, NAPM took up the baton and filed a case in the Mumbai High Court with Sri. Y.P. Singh as its advocate and questioned the clearance granted to Lavasa by the State authorities rather than Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, as required under the Environmental guidelines.


It was a result of various orders of the Mumbai High Court that the MOEF had to investigate into the environmental sanctions and actions at Lavassa and finally order a stay on the project. As also, give a hearing to the NAPM team and the Lavasa representatives at the Ministry on various environmental aspects. What followed was the complete stay on Lavasa by the Ministry. The High Court put a stamp on the same through more than one order in 2010 itself. However it was after Sri. Sharad Pawar met Smt. Sonia Gandhi that the MoEF gave a conditional clearance to Lavasa not for any further area to be covered but only 2000 hectares i.e. 5000 acres out of the total initial plan of 25,000 acres in 20 villages.


In an eco-sensitive zone of western ghats recently studied by Madhav Gadgil, recommending, no ecologically destructive activities, the Lavasa tourism project in the name of a Hill City, is therefore, not only misappropriation of crores of rupees worth land but also irreversible damage to the ecosystem of the Mose River Valley in Western Ghats.


Mr. Y.P.Singh who pleaded the Lavasa case in the High Court on behalf of NAPM and other environmental NGOs has rightly pointed out that Lavasa is of the Major scams, which any anti-corruption campaign should take up demanding resignation from the Union Agricultural Minister Sharad Pawar. We also support his position that Criminal cases need to be filed against all those responsible including the politicians. However, it is not NAPM’s intention to blame anyone for not raising this issue as the matter is before the High Court. The Maharashtra Govt. has taken some action such as filing a criminal case against the 15 office bearers of Lavasa, but it has failed to act against the politicians including Mr. Ajit Pawar who is already implicated in the irrigation scam recently exposed.


What is most condemnable is that the Lavasa Corporation has been advertising its real estate properties to be sold out and pooh-poohing its environmental protective measures and whole of its plan as being legal which in fact is in contempt of the High Court Orders and exhibits non-compliance of conditions laid down by MoEF which too is subject to the High Courts Permission to the Project. NAPM once again asserts that the State Govt. of Maharashtra, its department of Environment as well as Revenue and the Central Ministry of Environment and Forests must immediately take cognizance of the same and compel Lavasa to Suspend its work, Stop harassment of the adivasis and other farmers, and investigate the fraudulent land transfers and return the land to the original lawful owners and punish all those guilty of Squandering crores of rupees from the state exchequer as well as invaluable public property.


Medha Patkar, Suniti S.R( 020- 24251404), Vishwambhar Chaudhary, Prasad Bagve, Dnyaneshwar Shedge.


Brief Chronology of the NAPM’s agitation and Actions against Lavasa Hill City Project


2006 : Villagers from Mugav, Vasave, Bhoini approach Suniti S R, NAPM National Convener based in Pune and seek their help in fighting illegal transfer and acquisition of their land.


March 2007 : NAPM takes a yatra in the region covering the SEZs around Pune including Mahindra Karla SEZ (now scrapped), Tata dams affected areas and also holds a big rally in Basave, Medha Patkar, NAPM National Convener, also participates in that. ON the same day a dharna is also held infront of the Pune Collectorate demanding action against the illegal land transfer.


October 15 – 21 : NAPM holds massive dharna of all the project affected people in Azad Maidan, Mumbai. Government promises action within a month on various demands of the movement. Unsatisfied by the response NAPM announces establishment of aPeople’s Commission of Enquiry with Arvind Kejariwal, Y P Singh, SM Mushrif and Nirmalkumar Suryavanshi.


2009 : Project affected people of the Lavasa Hill City form Mose Khore Bachao Jan Andolan which is affiliated to National Alliance of People’s Movements.


April 20, 2009 : Commission submits its interim report to NAPM, which send it to the Maharashtra Government and to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Central Government citing various violations on environmental front including EIA violations, illegal transfer of adivasi land, encroachment of government land etc.


September 1, 2010 : Deputation to the Narayan Rane, who again promises action against the alleged violations as brought out in the commission report and repeats the same on September 3 in Delhi. However, he changes his position on September 15 and says that the Lavasa project can be regualirsed inspite of the violations.


September 2010 : NAPM sends a legal notice through Advocate Y P Singh to the Maharshtra government, Central MoEF and Lavasa City Corporation (LCC)


October 15, 2010 : NAPM files a PIL in Mumbai High Court, case no. 90/2010


November 21-23, 2010 : NAPM along with others hold a demonstration in Delhi on the issue of forcible land acquisitions, displacement and repeal of the land acquisition act and meets Jairam Ramesh, Minister MoEF.


November 23, 2010 : MoEF orders show cause notice to the Lavasa Hill City Project citing various environmental violations.


December 9, 10, 14, 2010 : MoEF invites representation from LCC and NAPM on the various alleged violations.


January 5 – 7, 2011 : An MoEF Expert Committee makes a visit to the project cite. NAPM also makes a presentation to the team.


January 17, 2011 : MoEF in its final order accepts various environmental violations under EIA 1994, 2004 and 2006 and orders stay on any further construction and orders Maharashtra government to take appropriate action. LCC challenges it in the Mumbai High Court.


February 2011 : Conditional Clearance is given by the MoEF but LCC doesn’t accept it and asks for a out of court settlement.


March 30, 2011 : Learned Judge of the Court Ranjana Desai says if LCC wants they can go for out of court settlement bur refuses to lift the stay order on construction.


November 9, 2011 : Final clearance by MoEF is given after Mr. Pawar brings political pressure from Centre, by then Smt Jayanti Natarajan has taken over from Mr. Jairam Ramesh. NAPM challenges it in the Mumbai Court on which the hearing is still going on.





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‘The concept of progress now is illusory’ #mustread

Published: Thursday, Aug 9, 2012, 11:20 IST
By Subir Ghosh | Place: Bangalore | Agency: DNA


The genial, lanky man who opens the door to greet you hardly looks like one who should be in the thick of a controversy. But the report of a panel chaired by Madhav Gadgil is today at the centre of a heated debate — that originally hinged on the Western Ghats, but has since been enlarged. Gadgil, in a free-wheeling interview with Subir Ghosh, dwells at length on the Ghats and minces no words about the so-called schism between development and environment.

The report of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), which was chaired by you, is in cold storage. After all the work, where do you stand now?
I think I managed to get a very good response, at least from civil society, besides some people in the administration as well as the political system. And possibly, for the first time, a lot of people are reading what has been very objectively recorded about what has happened (in the Western Ghats over the years). I see the report, apart from its specific recommendations, as being a fairly comprehensive documentation. This is something I think is worthwhile. It should reach out to people. Many people, especially the urban middle classes who certainly play a role in terms of public pressure, are simply not aware of the facts on the ground. Our report attempts to get this information out to people. It has certainly got people thinking. I think, in a way, it was a very good thing that they (the government) did not release it to the public, leading to demands that it should be released because people were very curious. Come to think of it, I was looking at a website a few days back and I was surprised to see that a private coaching centre for competitive exams had questions about the Ghats in a sample set. And, mind you, this was for a clerical grade exam for banks. So, if people studying for clerical positions in banks are aware of the issue, I must imagine there is a large number of people who must now be abreast with the (Western Ghats) issue. This is bound to be positive response from the government in the long run. I don’t think it can be dismissed that readily. This may lead to some debate and developments. Even the political class seems to have been taking cognisance. Let’s see what happens.

In other words, if not anything, people are definitely more aware of the Western Ghats issue, by and large?
Definitely. A Malayalam language weekly in Kerala dedicated an entire issue devoted to the Western Ghats developments. Many of the panel members too contributed to the edition. I myself keep writing in a number of Marathi publications. There are some publications that are planning thematic special issues too. By seeing more people becoming aware, the government will eventually have to act.

Given the range of recommendations in the report, many of them were even seen as very stringent. Do you think it was too much for the governments (the Union and states) to take?
The mandate itself was very clear, and we did not step outside the mandate at all. The mandate, among other things, included making recommendations about ecologically sensitive zones, their delineation, etc. The panel’s report has been accepted, though not acted upon. The conclusions were evident. But we certainly realised that all of it cannot be set aside, like those pertaining to the protected areas. We have suggested a set of guidelines, and we have also talked about a starting point for a grassroots level debate. And these are not to be taken as final. A people-oriented process should be set in motion to decide on the exact measures that need to be put in place. It was not a question just of regulatory measures; we have also made a lot of promotional suggestions. One of the positive steps that all the governments can readily accept is to start giving farmers special payments like Australia does for sequestering carbon in the soil. These are things where there is no question of being stringent. Maybe it goes against the interests of the chemicals and fertilisers industry, which is what the government wants to support (and not the farmers). But they cannot openly say that. This apart, we had pointed out that there are a number of laws which are being violated. We need proper monitoring of what is happening and we must have a system in place which will be effective.

Since you mention governments, which one do you think was the most vocal in going against the WGEEP report?
None of them have communicated anything directly to me. Going just by newspaper reports, it is very difficult to judge. For instance, in Karnataka, they seem to be talking more about the UNESCO’s World Heritage Site (WHS) status to the Ghats than our report.

More….continue reading here




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