''Karnataka must embrace Unesco tag with pride.''
The State government is being obstructionist and unreasonable by opposing Unesco’s according of heritage status to ten sites in the Western Ghats in Karnataka. The sites include wildlife sanctuaries, reserve forests and a national park. Thirty-nine sites in four states through which the Western Ghats run have been chosen for the honour but Karnataka alone wants to reject it. The Karnataka government’s contention is that if such status is accorded then the government will lose control over the forests. Minister for forests C H Vijayashankar says that the government would not be able to initiate development projects in these areas without Unesco’s permission.
Not only is heritage status a hindrance to development but also it brings no benefits -- Unesco gives no funds, he complains. The Karnataka government, he says is fully capable of protecting the Western Ghats’ rich flora and fauna. It does not need Unesco’s heritage status to draw tourists. The holes in the forest minister’s arguments will be evident to anyone who has visited historical monuments and scenic sites in Karnataka. These are in a filthy state, with many doubling up as public toilets. Garishly painted gopurams, ugly theme parks in places of serenity and solitude, hotels in the wilderness – these are the government’s efforts to draw tourists. As for ‘development’ projects, dams, power plants and mining are stripping the Western Ghats of trees and its rich bio-diversity. If this is the development that the minister is so keen to pursue, the Western Ghats and the people who live here are better off without it.
Over a decade ago, the government locked horns with Unesco over the construction of bridges across the Tungabhadra near Hampi’s temples. Unesco threatened to withdraw heritage status to Hampi, forcing the government to backdown. That this experience will repeat itself with regard to the Western Ghats is perhaps behind the government’s position now. But it must bear in mind that Unesco’s strong stand on the bridges helped preserve Hampi.
To our ministers, the Western Ghats’ value lies in its mineral wealth and timber. Sadly, they fail to comprehend that the real wealth of these forests is in their biodiversity. Similarly, what Unesco’s heritage status means has clearly missed our ministers, who seem capable of a cost-benefit analysis only in monetary terms. Unesco’s heritage status to the Western Ghats is recognition of its incalculable value to human civilisation and well-being. Karnataka must embrace it with pride.