Madhav Gadgil Committee Report and the Catholic Church of Kerala
by C I Issac on 29 Nov 2013 7 Comments

Kerala, the only wholly literate State in India, is proving itself to be a less educated one. For the last couple of months, the main concern of a section of Kerala society is about the potential danger facing farmers and people in general due to implementation of the Gadgil/ Kasthurirangan proposals to save Western Ghats. Unfortunately, poor people are subjected to emotions rather than reasoning by some unseen forces and interest groups and are not adequately aware of the lessons of Uttar Kashi during the last northwest monsoon season. They are not aware of the wrath of nature which awaits them.


The Western Ghats are the protector of the Indian peninsula and mother of more than a dozen perennial rivers. This is one of the most ecologically sensitive areas in the world and is now endangered due to indiscriminate human interference in the name of development. Hence, halting the rapid pace of the degradation of its environment is the main concern; this is the sum and substance of the Madhav Gadgil report.


The report was prepared after a careful and scientific survey of 18 months and presented to the Ministry of Environment and Forests on August 31, 2011. Madhav Gadgil is an outstanding professor at the Centre for Ecological Science, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore; he has six titles and 215 research papers to his credit. His academic credibility is unquestioned, and it is in this light that one should see his observations and findings as a mantra for sustainability of human generations in peninsular India.


Some are opposing the report and spreading canards without reading or even seeing the text of the report. These forces began spreading baseless rumours immediately after its submission to the concerned ministry. Unfortunately, the authorities failed to provide a vernacular translation of the document to concerned quarters, which was an unpardonable lapse on their part.


Intense pressure from mysterious quarters led the Ministry to appoint another committee under Kasthurirangan to review and submit another report regarding the destiny of the Western Ghats and the people inhabiting the most sensitive locations of the Ghats, covering an area of 1,29,037 sq. km and spreading over six southern Indian States including Gujarat. Its end-to-end length is 1490 km, minimum width is 48 km and maximum width is 210 km. But the Kasthurirangan report did not differ much from the earlier report of Madhav Gadgil. The paradox is that of the six States, only Kerala reacted wildly against the report.


Out of 4156 villages spread over 142 taluks identified as ecologically sensitive by Gadgil, only 123 villages in 14 taluks lie in the State of Kerala and compared to other States villages in Kerala are small, just 8 to 14 sq. km. Among the 123 villages, only some portions are geologically sensitive. The task of identifying such places has been left to village panchayats and the Western Ghats Ecological Authority. Thus it is ‘much ado about nothing’ in one sense and in other sense the beginning of another labour pain to birth a new Kashmir in the far south.


Behind the wild reactions, the involvement of two religious forces is quite apparent - the Islamic terrorist groups and the Catholic Church of Kerala. The paradox is that other Christian Churches or the Catholic Church of Goa or Karnataka not reacted against the report in the manner of the Kerala Catholic Church. In fact, the Church of South India’s Bishop Rt. Rev. Thomas K Oommen came forward and extended the support of his Church and laity to the Gadgil recommendations.  


For more than a decade, the Kerala Catholic Church has been active in generating confusion and social tension, particularly amongst its laity, using occasions such as the Holy Mass (or Holy Communion). In the midst or culmination of the Holy Mass, they read out Pastoral Letters, which are the new version of the medieval Papal Bulls. These letters are creating unnecessary confusion and concern amongst the ignorant and poor laity which is now gripped with a sense of social insecurity. 


Since the 1957 ‘liberation’ movement against the democratically elected communist government, the Church has openly used the weapon of pastoral letters to infuriate its laity and achieve its political ends. Since 2000, the Church slightly changed its stratagem and tone towards petty social issues to generate insecurity amongst its laity.


One instance was the question of population, and the Church, in contradiction of the national population policy, called on the laity through its pastoral letters to have more births and offered very attractive incentives to those who accepted the call to have more children.


Another instance was the question of Mullapperiyar Dam. The concerns which the Church raised against the existence of the dam are, beyond doubt, false and imaginative. Moreover, the issue of dam is between two states of the Indian Union and there is a constitutional mechanism to settle such disputes. Notwithstanding these facts, the Church generated tension not only amongst Catholics but amongst the whole of society downstream of the dam. Behind all these activities there are hidden agendas.


Amidst the recent agitation against the Gadgil Report, the Catholic Bishop of Idukki threatened, ‘in Kerala they will create another Kashmir’ if the Government did not discard the proposals of both Gadgil and Kasthurirangan. This threat is still alive. The malady is that so far the Bishop has neither tendered an apology nor withdrawn from his stand of civil war against the nation. The defunct Government of Kerala has not responded to this call/threat and its machineries are in torpor. Thus no action has been enunciated against him so far. Similar calls by priests in Nagaland in the 1960s had consequences from the 1970s onwards, for which we are still paying a heavy price.  


In the meantime, it is better to see the other side of the present catastrophe. Multifarious interests are pivoting round the new issues. Both ruling and opposition fronts in Kerala favour the Islamic terrorist - Catholic Church nexus in disguise. The Church had readied such a nexus when a Catholic college professor’s hand was chopped off by Islamic fundamentalists, and the Church extended moral support to the terrorists and terminated the victim from service!


Above all, Islamic terrorist groups with the moral support of the Muslim League are demanding one more Muslim majority district and subsequently a Muslim majority state by dividing Kerala. We shall set this aside for the time being. However, the Muslim League, the main constituent of the Congress-led Front, is god-fathering Islamic terrorists in the State. They are its main source of income and votebank. Similarly to the opposition Left Front also, Islamic terrorists are dear. Both fronts are unanimously supporting the cause of the hardcore terrorist Abdul Nassar Madhani.


The leaders of both Fronts are attempting to fish in troubled waters. They have varied interests. Some MLAs and leaders of the UDF & LDF are directly or indirectly running quarries in the rock-rich Western Ghats. Once the major suggestions of the report are implemented, they will be the main losers. Other leaders are running resorts and real estate business and seek rich commissions from the contractors of future hydro-electric projects; their interest in the Ghats is enhancing daily.


The Gadgil and Kasthurirangan reports suggest eco-friendly buildings. Both propose a ban on building construction above 2500 sq. m, quarries, unscientific road construction and dam constructions. This cannot be dismissed as anti-farmer. Gadgil recommended the promotion of topographic and economic-friendly agriculture. Indeed, all over the world such movements are gaining ground, even in Kerala. Can this be dubbed as against the Bible, Pope or Church?


Concerned citizens should study the major recommendations of the reports. They focus on environment-friendly and sustainable development of the Western Ghats while preserving its natural beauty and serenity as described in Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsa. To quote Gadgil: “Kalidasa likens the mountain range of Western Ghats to a comely young maiden, her head near Kanyakumari, Anaimalais and Nilgiris her breasts, Goa her hips, and her feet near river Tapi. All over the world, such mountains, endowed as they are with high levels of environmental heterogeneity, are treasure troves of natural diversity”.


Retaining the diversity of the Ghats and the life of its inhabitants is the main concern of the report. Gadgil divided the ranges of the Western Ghats into three compartments based on its slanting, extent of forests, density of population, and hydrological considerations. But Kasthurirangan broadly divided it into two. Gadgil suggested certain do’s and don’ts based on the topographical specialty of the ranges. He left the implementation of the proposal to the joint decision of village panchayats and the Western Ghats Ecological Authority.


The 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments have bestowed decision-making powers to the Panchayati Raj Institutions and Nagarpalikas. But in reality all development decisions are being thrust on the people as most panchayats in Kerala are ruled by the Church laity.


So why are the Catholic Bishops of Kerala alone getting agitated? Of the 1,29,037 sq. km area of the Western Ghats, 41.56 percent belongs to natural forests zone and the remaining 58.44 percent is human-inhabited. In many places, the habitation exists on government record only. Its natural wealth is the attraction. Those behind the curtain of this agitation have multifarious interests, including terrorist and separatist activities. One must be careful before extending solidarity to the illusive agitation in the name of Gadgil committee report.


The author is a retired Professor of History, and lives in Trivandrum

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