The Oommen V. Oommen Committee appointed by the Kerala Government to review the Kasturirangan panel report has come out with a report that is friendly to the farmers of the Western Ghats in the State.

The expert committee, which was asked to review the Kasturirangan report, which in itself was a diluted version of the Madhav Gadgil report, has recommended that the inhabited areas, plantations and agricultural lands in the Western Ghats region be excluded from the scope of ‘ecologically sensitive areas’ (ESA). This could be made by field surveys and based on the density of population of the areas.

The Kasturirangan report had recommended that 123 revenue villages in the State, mainly in Idukki and Wayanad districts, be demarcated as ESA.

Land Act The three-member committee also recommended that the Kerala (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile) Land Act of 2003 be dropped as it had already served its purpose and hence lost its relevance. No more land should be acquired under the EFL Act.

It also wanted physical verifications to be carried out to determine the ecologically sensitive areas. Areas inhabited by large number of people and having plantations (rubber, tea, coffee etc.) need to be kept out of the ESA labelling.

The committee was headed by Oommen V. Ooommen, Chairman of the Kerala State Biodiversity Board. V.N. Rajasekharan Pillai, Executive Vice-Chairman of the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment; and P.C. Cyriac, former chairman of the Rubber Board, were the other members of the committee.

Farmers’ stir The Oommen Committee was set up by the Oommen Chandy Government in the wake of the protests, particularly by the Christian church and several organisations of farmers settled in the Western Ghats, against the Kasutrirangan report. The Kasturirangan committee report itself was in response to the protests against the Madhav Gagil report which made comprehensive recommendations for the protection of the Western Ghats region.

The Oommen committee has recommended to the government to allay the fears of the Western Ghats farmers that protection of the Ghats would damage their interests by hampering cultivation of rubber and other crops.