Karnataka minister puts foot in the mouth

UNESCO compared to East Indian Company

Published on 16 June 2011

Author(s): The Times of India/N D Shiva Kumar

Type:  News

Karnataka forest minister C H Vijayashankar equates the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) with the East India Company. The reason for his anger is the shortlisting of 10 sites in the Western Ghats — biodiversity-rich areas in the state which are up for inclusion in the World Heritage list.

"This is how the British came to India. Why should we allow the rights of the Union and state governments to be curtailed by a foreign agency? The tag has no advantages and, instead, only ruins the local system and culture,'' Vijayashankar told TOI.

He said: "There are several agencies, courts and laws to monitor and take action if the government errs. Why do we need Unesco? Once we get the tag, we have to stand before them for everything. Even if we have to sink a borewell for tribals, we need to seek their permission.''

According to him, the status has more disadvantages than advantages. Citing the instance of Hampi, which enjoys the World Heritage tag, he said: "What has Hampi gained after recognition? It has only spoiled the system and culture there.''

The tag, in his opinion, has nothing to offer except international recognition. He feels that tourist places should be allowed to have the status, but not evergreen forests in the Western Ghats.

With the 35th session of the World Heritage Committee being held at the Unesco headquarters in Paris from June 19 to 29, where is the time for the Union government to debate and decide? "We will send our request on June 17. Two days is enough to decide,'' the minister concluded.

Times View

The Karnataka government's desire to exclude 10 sites in the Western Ghats from Unesco's proposed World Heritage status is preposterous and inexplicable. Our neighbouring states have made no such foolish noises. The world over, countries vie to make the Unesco list. Equating Unesco, a UN body, to East India Company, as a state BJP minister has done, defies all logic and, most definitely, history. Maybe the minister forgot that India is a UN member.

What rings clear is the desire of the BJP government to reserve the right to 'develop' these sites. The Western Ghats would be better served if its top attractions get a World Heritage tag than a resort label.

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