"Science is the most democratic enterprise," said noted ecologist and environmentalist Dr Madhav Gadgil, while receiving The Week's Man of the Year 2019 award on Tuesday. "There are two pillars over which science stands—empirical facts and logical inference. And I have full confidence that our report on the Western Ghats was both factual and logical."
Presenting the award to Gadgil, Dr E Sreedharan, who was the principal adviser of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, said had Kerala paid heed to Gadgil's recommendations in the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report, the state would not have had to face the flood fury of 2018 and 2019. "Now we are convinced that if we had implemented at least a few of his recommendations, we would not have suffered." He added that that it is a false notion that development and environmental consideration cannot coexist.
The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, headed by Gadgil, was an environment research commission appointed by the ministry of environment and forests in 2010. In August 2011, it submitted its report, popularly known as the Gadgil Report, in which it warned of imminent natural disasters unless urgent steps were taken to protect eco-sensitive zones in the Western Ghats. The report, however, was widely criticised, triggering massive protests across the six states in the Western Ghats region—Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. His recommendations were rejected by the state governments, and the Union government appointed another committee under former ISRO chairman K. Kasturirangan.
After the devastating Kerala and Kodagu floods of 2018, and subsequently in 2019, Gadgil's recommendations are back in focus, with Gadgil being portrayed as a prophet of the times. Speaking about reactions to his report, Gadgil said he had never expected it to be immediately accepted because he was aware of vested interests. "There was deliberate distortion; our report has been faulted but nobody ever pointed out a single error or illogicality," he said.
In 'Man in Love with the Mountains', that appeared in issue dated December 15, 2019, Gadgil spoke extensively of his love for the Western Ghats and how the fight for their preservation has been his life's mission.
Gadgil said it was an honour to be selected The Week's Man of the Year as it was a recognition of his work for the people and sustainable development. "The award is an honour to me as a scientist."
The Week's Editor Philip Mathew said 'climate change' is the most fierce phrase in today's times and spoke of Gadgil's prophetic recommendations. "Kerala refused to believe, and we paid the price," he said, also bringing in frightening examples of climate change across the country and the world. He hoped people would recognise the work and ethos of people like Gadgil, and learn to live differently and in sync with nature."
With a word of warning for the future, Gadgil said the world is changing rapidly due to global warming, and India is particularly susceptible to this warming with effects more far-reaching than most other countries. Besides other factors, Gadgil blamed this on the larger concentration of aerosols in the atmosphere, far exceeding global levels.
(This article was originally published in The Week)