Ernakulam: Kerala should involve local communities and rebuild itself in a sustainable manner, recreating not only the lost man-made capital, but also its “natural, human and social capital", noted ecologist Madhav Gadgil said on Friday.

“Kerala should come to serve as a laboratory for fashioning development programmes compatible with conservation while deepening democracy and social justice. The single-minded focus on development defined in a narrow fashion is not an appropriate way to go forward," he said. Gadgil was making a presentation on the topic, “Sustainable rebuilding of Kerala", in a talk organized by the Kerala unit of the Indian Association of Lawyers.

Gadgil’s statement comes at a time when Kerala is witnessing a debate on whether unbridled encroachment, quarrying and unscientific dam operations, among other factors, contributed to the recent floods. Consequently, his 2011 report on saving the Western Ghats has acquired a fresh lease of life. The report was rejected by Kerala, although it found support from many corners, after widespread agitations by people who thought their livelihood might be affected.

“The government has said 26,000 crore is needed to rebuild the lost man-made capital. But it greatly exceeds the man-made capital build imprudently, often illegally, over the last few years. In addition, we have suffered enormous losses of natural, human and social capital," he said.

Refusing to make any sweeping remarks on the cause of the recent floods, Gadgil said all data must be examined in the public domain. “Scientific advice is being ignored at all levels, including rainfall predictions. Government agencies are making a mistake by talking only to the government," he said.

He narrated his experiences during his visit first to Kerala in the 1970s to count elephants in the foothills of the Western Ghats in Wayanad district, where he found locals guiding him more effectively than forest department officials. This informed his opinion while writing the Western Ghats report in 2011.

“I’m not saying anything new. Kerala must now reassure its people that it will no longer continue the policies of development by exclusion," Gadgil said. “It can be done by creating biodiversity management committees in preparation of environmental impact assessment, instead of uniformly fraudulent documents submitted today," he said.

“The government must implement the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution and give the gram panchayat the right to reject some development project if it does not want it," he said.

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