After a couple of letters by former Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh and the present incumbent, Jayanthi Natarajan, failed to evoke any response from Chief Minister D V Sadananda Gowda, a senior official of the environment ministry shot off a third missive two days ago to the state government, requesting it to “revisit” its earlier position on the matter.
In his September 27 letter to Forest Department Principal Secretary Kaushik Mukherjee, MoEF Additional Director General of Forests (Wildlife) Jagdish Kishwan has asked the state government to “revisit the position taken to withdraw the 10 sites in the Western Ghats in Karnataka, from India’s proposal for world heritage designation for 39 sites.”
When contacted by Deccan Herald, Kishwan said: “The matter is very important. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be pursuing it like this. It all hinges on the state government now. Since Karnataka is between two other states, it won’t be good if we leave anything out from the original proposal.”
Kishwan said: “Through this letter, the ministry has tried to allay the apprehensions expressed by the state government. The MoEF is willing to make a presentation on India’s nomination dossier of the Western Ghats to the ministers concerned, public representatives and locals to highlight the salient features of the proposal. It is important that all the stakeholders involved are sensitised about the matter. We have sought for a date and venue from the department.”
Mukherjee said he was in New Delhi and that he had not read the letter. While the state government appeared to be evasive on the issue, the deadline for inscribing the Western Ghats in Unesco’s World Heritage list next year is fast approaching. While that deadline will expire in December, the state government could get an extension till February to agree to the tag.
According to the letter, the tag would not entail imposition of any legal regime by Unesco and that the designation was being sought for only designated national parks, wildlife
sanctuaries, tiger reserves and reserved forests only.
It says that no private land will be included in the proposal. While the legal boundaries of the sites will remain unchanged, their management will continue to be carried out under provisions of duly approved working plans. The proposal doesn’t intend to make changes in the existing buffer zones. The tag will also not impose any changes in the lives and livelihood of the people living in and around the sites.
“It has been globally observed that such a designation helps bring the sites on the world information map. Tourism activity will directly boost the local economy,” the letter adds.
But the situation, Kishwan said, is not yet completely “out of control”. He said that during his last meeting with state government officials in Bangalore, he “understood that the apprehensions held by the government are, however, not shared by the bureaucracy.”
According to Kishwan, “the Forest Department expressed apprehensions harboured by the government over its experience with Unesco officials with regard to Hampi. We should not be drawing a parallel between a natural site and cultural site. We are hoping for a positive response from Karnataka.”