Western Ghats, unlike other mountain ranges are not just fascinating places at height but they are the biggest biodiversity hotspots having a vast range of flora & fauna exhibiting a high degree of biodiversity. It stretches from north of Mumbai to the Southern tip of India & covers a massive area of 1,60,000 sq km. Many species found in them are unique to this area & are not found anywhere else in the world.
In October 2013, Ministry of Environment agreed in principle to notify 37% area of Western Ghats under Ecologically Sensitive Area following reports of two committees on Western Ghats : Kasturirangan Committee and Madhav Gadgil Committee. The proposal to put it under ESA was recommended by Kasturirangan committee. A formal notification of the new rule will follow after it is put to comments ,suggestion and further review
Criticism of the Decision [VIEWS OF EMINENT ECOLOGIST MADHAV GADGIL who headed the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP)]
- Limited focus on the Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA) by the government will not help to stop ecological degradation in Western Ghats.
- Decision will have negative impact on precious ecology, water resources and livelihood of the local people.
- Only 60,000 sq km is going to be declared as ESA which is only 37% of the total area under consideration.
- Process of “development by exclusion coupled to conservation by exclusion” is being used.
- WGEEP had recommended a democratic process be adopted so that local Gram Sabhas decision can be taken into account but keeping this aside, this decision has been taken on limited webbased consultation in “English”.
- Narrow focus of the Kasturirangan Committee on forested areas under government control is totally inadequate and inappropriate.
- Main centres like Ratnagiri and Sindhudurgh districts have been neglected which are sources for many west flowing rivers & are rich in forest cover.
- Governments decision that Gram Sabhas will have a say only in Eco Sensitive Areas violates spirit of democracy & the Constitution of India.
GOVERNMENT’S VIEW (in support of the decision)
Close to 60 per cent of the Western Ghats region is under cultural landscape — human dominated land use of settlements, agriculture and plantations. They have been purposefully kept away from ESA ambit. If this area is also declared as ESA then any economic development of the local people and area will be hampered giving a view that Government is not doing anything for development of this area.
- So 60% (cultural landscape)+ 37% (suggested by Mr. Kasturirangan) = 97% of the total area has been scrutinized by the government.
- Here the oft repeated question arises – “Priority to whom – Environment safety or Economic Development?”
GADGIL PANEL REPORT RECOMMENDATIONS
Officially called Western Ghats ecology expert panel report (WGEEP) , report was submitted in 2011 & was formed to study the ecological and environmental problems of Western Ghats and give recommendations.
- Under Environment Protection Act, 1986 Union Government can designate an area as ecologically sensitive zone and then Government can prohibit/regulate Development in this region. But it is plagued with over bureaucratization & no proper local community participation.
- Divided total area available into 3 zones but in map making have taken 4 zones. (1. Zone 1 2. Zone 2 3. Zone 3 4. Protected Area (PA).
- Active inputs be taken from Local bodies for any decision.
- Form a statutory body Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA), under Ministry of Environment and Forests which would have total administrative control on Western Ghats.
- Final map of Western Ghats be prepared showing various 4 zones on it. (this feature is nice considering that government finds it really hard in identifying the sensitive areas)
CRITICISM OF GADGIL REPORT
- Recommendations are impractical to implement.
- Gadgil report has asked for complete ecosensitive cover for Western Ghats which hamper different states on energy & development fronts.
- No need for new body called WGEA. States insist that protection can be given under existing laws.
- Gadgil report doesn’t give solution for revenue losses.
KASTURIRANGAN COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATIONS (to examine the WGEEP report)
10 members high-level working group (HLWG), headed by Kasturirangan, was constituted to examine the Western Ghats ecology expert panel report (WGEEP) prepared under the leadership of eminent ecologist Madhav Gadgil.
- 37% (i.e. 60,000 sq. km.) of the total area be brought under ESA.
- Complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining in these areas.
- Distinguished between cultural (58% occupied in Western Ghats by it like human settlements, agricultural fields and plantations) and natural landscape (90% of it should come under ESA according to committee).
- Current mining areas in the ESA should be phased out within the next five years, or at the time of expiry of mining lease, whichever is earlier.
- No thermal power be allowed & hydropower projects be allowed only after detailed study.
- Red industries i.e. which are highly polluting be strictly banned in these areas.