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Catholic Church up in arms over Madhav Gadgil report

Posted on Nov 25, 03:52PM | IANS

The Syro Malabar Catholic Church has termed as a "conspiracy" the Madhav Gadgil-headed Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report which recommends zoning of 75 percent of the Western Ghats into different grades of ecological sensitivity.

"In the name of environment, this is nothing but a sort of 'terrorist activity'. This report means that a huge section of the farmers in this district will have to move out of their farm land. This report is part of an international conspiracy," says a pastoral letter by the Syro Malabar Catholic Church read out Sunday at churches in Idukki district.

A pastoral letter is a missive in which a bishop addresses priests and people in his area.

The Gadgil report zoned 75 percent of the Western Ghats into different grades of ecological sensitivity.

"The report should not be accepted at all and, if implemented, a huge section of the people here will be placed two centuries back," the letter said.

Soon after the Gadgil report was made public, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, in a discussion in the Kerala legislative assembly in June, also expressed reservations on the report.

He made it clear that most of the suggestions were impractical, and Kerala was opposed to the formation of a new Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA), a key recommendation, as the state could ensure protection of its environment within the provisions of existing laws.

Chandy told the assembly that the government of Kerala had written to the central government objecting to nine recommendations made by the committee in the report.

Idukki district, with an area of 4,479 sq km, is the second-largest district of Kerala with rugged mountains and forests in about 97 percent of the total area. It also has a large number of settlers.

A top official of the state environment department, on condition of anonymity, said the present fear raised by people of Idukki is because of "confusion".

"As per official forest records, many of the present-day towns in Idukki district are marked as protected areas and are thickly populated. The government can make a decision on this aspect and the confusion can be cleared," the government official said.

The Catholic community has a large following among people in the district, who eke out a living from farming.