The resolution passed by the Karnataka Assembly rejecting Unesco’s heritage status to the Western Ghats is shocking.
It reveals the short-sightedness and small-mindedness of our political class. The heritage status is aimed at protecting the fragile and amazing bio-diversity of these mountains. Much campaigning by the Indian government went into securing Unesco’s recognition.
This is a badge of honour that Karnataka should embrace with pride. Indeed, the people of Karnataka have welcomed the honour accorded to their mountains. Not so its politicians, who are complaining that the status will not bring any money. Listen in to the debate on the heritage status and the motivations of our legislators become apparent. One legislator complained about the ‘pittance’ that will come with the Unesco status.
Legislators were up in arms that ‘development projects’ will be halted by the heritage status. Others raised fears on behalf of tribals. The Speaker of the House threatened to resign on the issue. The theatrics visible in the Assembly on Wednesday would have been comical if it were not for the fact that many legislators were being downright disingenuous on several points.
Heritage status will not stand in the way of tribals accessing minor forest produce. However, it will stop the rampant levelling of mountains for mining and road construction and felling of trees. That is, it will impact a lot of the illegal business that are being run currently in the Western Ghats. And it is in stout defence of such activity that legislators voted against the Unesco tag. The unanimous vote in the Karnataka Assembly reveals that when it comes to protecting the activity of illegal mining and timber felling our legislators close ranks.
Some legislators grandly declared that the government is perfectly capable of looking after its own heritage. The condition of ancient monuments in the state and the pollution of rivers indicate that this capacity is seriously lacking. The problem lies in the way our political class evaluates the Western Ghats. To them its value lies in what immediate monetary gains they can get from it. However, the value of these mountains lies in their rich bio-diversity, their thick forest cover and antiquity of rocks and trees. The debate and unanimous vote in the Karnataka Assembly reveals that the Western Ghats need protection from the avarice of the political class.