Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mining and timber lobbies behind opposition to heritage tag?

Praveen Bhargav

The Karnataka government’s stand opposing the proposal to include scientifically identified areas in the Western Ghats on the Unesco World Heritage List is shockingly short sighted.
Several ministers and elected representatives have presented bizarre arguments as to why they oppose the proposal. While one BJP MLA from Kodagu claimed that the Unesco proposal would hamper the availability of stone for road construction, another minister is on record that his plan to have a base at Kudremukh for the state commando force would be affected.

While such explanations ring hollow and expose the lack of scientific temper and vision, it is important for the people to know the real truth and the underlying reasons leading up to this unfortunate decision.

The World Heritage Convention (WHC) is an international treaty to which India is a signatory. It recognises the fundamental need to preserve the balance between people and nature. The decision to scientifically identify Natural Heritage Sites was initiated by the ministry of environment in 2002. The results of the transparent identification process were publicly discussed during 2004. The Government at the Centre during that period was headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who showed great statesmanship in initiating the process.  So why is the state government vehemently opposing their own iconic leader’s visionary decision?

In December 2008 some local people led by elected representatives and supported by senior district officers, bulldozed portions of the Pushpagiri sanctuary in the Western Ghats in gross violation of the Supreme Court’s orders. The SC directed the central empowered committee to investigate the serious charges and proceedings are presently at a crucial stage. The Karnataka high court, in 2009, blocked a determined attempt to cut several thousand trees in pristine forest enclosures in the Western Ghats including one allegedly owned by a powerful minister in the present cabinet.

These legal interventions have huge implications for political leaders. They greatly fear that the Unesco proposal will be another weapon in the hands of conservationists to block such activities.

 A virulent misinformation campaign was launched against the Unesco proposal in which a few corrupt forest officials and local outfits which are essentially fronts for the timber lobby were involved.

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