The Karnataka Forest Department has decided to put together a ‘Vision Document-2030’ that would outline the governing principles of its efforts for the next several years. While the initiative itself is laudable –and unprecedented amongst our country’s states- the process in which it is being undertaken has caused serious alarm amongst concerned sections of the public.
On 30th of October, a mail was sent out inviting a few organizations and individuals to a workshop on the 2nd of November to help draft this document. Two key issues were: that less than a dozen organizations were invited to the workshop and this ‘Vision Document-2030’ is to be drafted by the Forest Department in collaboration with Dutch based consultancy KPMG, an agency that has been mired in controversy due to fraudulent entanglements in South Africa and elsewhere. The process of enlisting KPMG appears to have overlooked many Government agencies (Eg. EMPRI – Environmental Management Policy Research Institute, or Administrative Training Institute) and publicly funded research and academic institutions (Institute for Social Economic Change, for eg.) who have conducted such exercises in the past.
Leo F. Saldanha of Environment Support Group, who was invited to the workshop, raised these concerns in reply to the invitation email sent by the Forest Department. Considering the critical importance of the task, he shared these concerns with the offices of the Chief Minister of Karnataka, Chief Secretary, the Union Ministries of Tribal Affairs and Environment and Forests, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Forests, and various research and civil society organizations, as well as retired forest officials. These concerns gained considerable traction.
Dr. Nitin Rai of the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment, Dr. Kshithij Urs and Diya Deb of Greenpeace India, Nayana Udayashankar of Equations, Santosh Martin former Hon. Wildlife Warden (Bellary), naturalist Sheshadri Ramaswamy and several others were not invited to the consultation, but nevertheless came to participate in the discussion at Aranya Bhavan this morning. Twelve minutes before the meeting was to commence, the Forest Department sent an email which read, “In continuation to the email sent on the 31-10-2018, this is to inform that due to administrative reasons, the Workshop on the Forest Vision Document previously scheduled on 02nd of November … has been cancelled.”
In any case, those present met with Mr. Rajiv Ranjan, IFS, Addl. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Personnel and Recruitment) who anchored the process, and listed their concerns about the overall undemocratic manner in which this Document is being drafted. The senior official was receptive to the concerns raised and stated these would be noted and discussed with senior officers. The concerns raised were that:
(i) The terms of contract with KPMG, and the process by which the agency was selected, must be shared suo moto by the Karnataka Forest Department,
(ii) The shallow understanding of forests and dependencies on forests and natural resources, is exhibited in the questionnaire circulated (possibly developed by KPMG)
(iii) A rational, transparent, accountable and democratic process must be instituted, in compliance with Constitutional requirement (Art. 243ZD/ZE), to accommodate divergent and scientifically rigorous views, and thus produce a Vision Document that secures the interests of all publics and future generations as well,
(iv) The agency tasked with assisting the Forest Dept. in so developing the Vision Document should have no ‘conflict of interest’, such as representing clientele who have active engagement in forest destruction and industrial extraction of natural resources.
Enclosed is the correspondence leading to the cancellation of the workshop on the developing of Karnataka Forest Department’s Vision Document – 2030.
Environment Support Group
firstname.lastname@example.org (for clarifications)