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Kerala govt’s green vow lacks ecological conviction

The Oommen Chandy Government is not all that keen on protecting eco-sensitive zones in the state despite its much-hyped ‘commitment’ to protect the environment.

That the government’s commitment to protect Kerala’s shrinking ecological wealth is a sham is clear from its decision to go against the Gadgil Committee’s recommendation for a total ban on mining activities in the Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs) along the Western Ghats.

The government’s cold response to the suggestion for a ban on mining has already run into fierce resistance from the environmentalists.

It is bound to incur the wrath of the ‘Green Brigade’, which consists of Congress MLAs V D Satheeshan, T N Prathapan and V T Balram besides Socialist Janata(Democratic) MLA M P Shreyams Kumar and IUML MLA K M Shaji. The Brigade, has been vigorously espousing the cause of environment protection ever since the government’s move to protect forest land encountered stiff opposition from Kerala Congress(Mani), an ally of the Congress in the United Democratic Front government.

The government is opposing the mining ban on the ground that the move would deprive lakhs of migrant workers of their only source of livelihood. Besides, the mining ban would have serious implications in the industrial, labour and social sectors, argues the government. In its response to the Kasturirangan Committee, which has been formed to review the recommendations of the Gadgil Committee report, the government lays accent on the need for diluting the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) because of what it calls lesser scale and extent of mining activity. The government contends that 80 per cent of the mining activity is confined to less than five hectare area and employs migrant labour, in its efforts to secure exemption from EIA procedure, applicable in the case of large industries.

Environmentalists counter this argument, saying that only a small number of labourers work in the quarries, many of which are operating in eco-sensitive zones along the Western Ghats in Wayanad and Idukki districts in flagrant violation of laws. By opposing the Gadgil committee’s recommendation for a total ban on mining, the government is only helping the mining mafia, already flourishing in the state, to consolidate their gains, environmentalists contend.

Meanwhile, the CPI(M) has decided not to associate itself with the committee set up by the government to identify ecologically sensitive zones near wildlife sanctuaries and national parks. The party’s state secretariat took the decision in protest against the Chandy government’s act in filling up the committee with only ruling party leaders and bureaucrats.

The erstwhile LDF government had taken several steps to protect environment, the state secretariat statement said, adding that the forest area in the state had increased to 28.8 per cent of the total land area as against the 19.98 per cent at the national level during its tenure. The VS government had also got the state assembly to adopt the wetlands protection law. The Chandy government, it says, is trying to endanger the environment in the state by ignoring the Gadgil committee’s recommendations. And the consequences for the state can only be disastrous, it says. (IPA)
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