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Is the tango between Congress and the Church responsible for the Kerala disaster?

The enormity of the flood in Kerala would shock any person. The images that we have seen in the past few days makes us pause and think about why such a tragedy occurred. It would be too simplistic and naive to just blame this to overall global warming as the level and scale of destruction in Kerala shows that there is more to it.

Gadgil Report, Kasturirangan Report

Now let us analyse this a little further. Reports indicate that 2 committees which submitted reports to the Government in 2011 to protect the Western Ghats. These 2 reports are the Gadgil Report and Kasturirangan Report. Now, what are the details of this Gadgil Report and Kasturirangan Report (GR and KR)?

The Gadgil and Kasturirangan committees were formed because of pressure from people on the UPA-II government, to save the ecological damage being caused by human activities in the Western Ghats. One called the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) headed by noted scientist Gadgil and the other by Kasturirangan.

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Both reports wanted the clear demarcation of an ecologically sensitive area (ESA) as an effort to protect the fragile eco-system of Western Ghats. This was needed to prevent indiscriminate industrialisation, mining and unregulated development.

The Gadgil report wanted the entire Ghats area of 63000 Sq. Km to be declared as an ecologically sensitive area whereas the Kasturirangan committee wanted to declare about 19000 Sq. Km as ecologically sensitive.

The Gadgil report was tabled to the Ministry of Environment and Forests on 11th August 2011, when the UPA– II headed by Sonia Gandhi led Congress was in power. This report suggested to make huge changes in classifying areas in Kerala as ecologically sensitive and that allowing any further building of dams, huge constructions etc specifically in Idukki and Wayanad areas may be dangerous. Likewise, the Kasturirangan report also made similar recommendations.

So how are the warning and recommendations from these two reports related to current flooding and disaster in Kerala?

The Western Ghats and Kerala:

The Gadgil report and Kasturirangan report repeatedly refer to the Western Ghats.

The Western Ghats is a 1,500-km biodiversity-rich geological formation along the western Indian coast, which is also rich in minerals.

This news report in Indian Express states: Over 13,108Square kilometre of Kerala’s area was to be classified as ecologically sensitive. The Modi government when it came to power wanted to do that. However, the Kerala state government did not agree to this and agreed to only 9,993.7 and excluded over 3000 Sq. Km from this. This paved the way for commercial exploitation of the forest and Western Ghats lands

Despite clear warnings from both the reports about the delicate nature of the environment, the Church came out with all its might to oppose the implementation and was obliged by the Sonia led UPA government in power, who completely ignored the dire warnings in the reports to protect its huge vote-bank of Christians – despite that resulting in destroying nature

  1. The moment the report was published the Church, Congress and CPIM politicians of Kerala came out against this report as it would lead to the fall in the influence and clout of the Church in the above areas, as those areas were populated hugely by Christians who migrated into the forests and ecologically sensitive areas.

In the news report of India Today titled “Kerala priests and politicians unite to oppose Gadgil report on the Western Ghats”,  you can see that PC George, MLA and chief whip of the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front government say that “We will physically beat back anyone who comes to our area to implement this report

  1. Now playing politics and completely ignoring the warnings about environmental damage, Sonia Gandhi, in a bid to appease her vote bank the Christians, decided not to get the recommendations of the report implemented through her UPA-II govt.

Here, in this news report of The Hindustan Times titled “Why India must protect the Western Ghats from getting lost” Veerappa Moily, a minister in Sonia Gandhi’s UPA, says the implementations of the Gadgil and Kasturirangan committee will not be implemented.

It is pertinent to note that the above news article of Feb 2014, during UPA- II rule, also warns that it is very important to declare the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive and goes on to say specifically:

This is worrying, because India is at the point where further stripping away of ecosystems and ecological balance — as is happening in the Western Ghats — pushes us closer to a tipping point

It also goes on to say that This will cause not just the loss of species and the degradation of unique biodiversity hotspots — the Ghats for, instance, has shrunk by 25% over the past decades — but will also affect rainfall patterns, river flow, water supply and climate across large swathes of the country.”

  1. It is exactly the same areas of Wayanad and Idukki that were pointed out in the Gadgil report to be declared as ecologically sensitive, are now bearing the brunt of the flood fury.

To summarize:

  1. Gadgil Report and Kasturirangan Report urged the UPA-II govt in 2011 to declare the western ghats areas of Kerala ecologically sensitive and not allow any significant construction there
  2. Sonia, playing vote-bank politics, decided to not implement this report as this would impact Christians, her vote bank
  3. Modi Govt tried to implement Kasturirangan report, but the Kerala politicians and government blocked implementation unless the protected area was reduced to appease the church.
  4. The same areas that Gadgil had pointed out in his report, are the most severely affected by the current flood.
  5. With her inaction of rejecting the report, Sonia Gandhi and Congress should answer for the floods which claimed over 350 lives.
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