Kochi: Opposing his party-led Kerala government's controversial decision to treat cardamom plantations in thick rain forests in Western Ghats region of the state as revenue land, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh Sunday said such areas have to be marked as forest areas to ensure proper protection of ecologically sensitive hills.
"Cardamom plantations in ecologically sensitive areas must be treated as forest areas," the former Union environment minister said from Delhi when his attention was drawn to the Oommen Chandy government's decision to demarcate Cardamom Hill Reserve as non-Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs).
A high-level meeting convened by Chief Minister Chandy had last week decided to finalise the areas to be excluded from ESAs identified by the K Kasturirangan committee for conservation of Western Ghats.
"Cardamom plantations cannot be treated as forest land and separate survey numbers will be given to treat it as revenue land. The forest department will have the ownership only of the trees. Plantations will not come under ESA", Chandy had said after the meeting.
Thousands of cardamom plantations are situated in ecologically fragile areas of Western Ghats and there are allegations that over course of time, cultivators have been trying to establish their ownership of such areas.
Environmentalists fear that this decision will further dilute the already watered down Kasturirangan panel report and adversely affect shrinking biodiversity areas of the state.
Ramesh, who had appointed the Madhav Gadgil panel during his tenure as environment minister to draw up a roadmap for preserving the biodiversity of Western Ghats, slammed the approach of his successor Prakash Javadekar and RSS towards protection of the ecologically sensitive hills.
"Its political hypocrisy ....ecological conspiracy," said Ramesh when asked about the stand taken by Javadekar and RSS on the issue of protection of Western Ghats.
The Congress leader echoed the views of party colleague and former Idukki MP P T Thomas,who had said that ecologically sensitive area in the Ghats which will be protected is much lesser than the area identified in UPA rule and that RSS, which had "instigated the people to agitate" against the then central government's decision to dilute the Madhav Gadgil panel report are "keeping mum" even after the NDA government decided to "water down it further".