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Biodiversity & Environment

Green Tribunal Steps in to Conserve Ghats

  • 03 Sep 2018
  • 5 min read

The  National Green Tribunal (NGT) has restrained the six Western Ghats States (Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat), from giving environmental clearance to activities that may adversely impact the eco-sensitive areas of the mountain ranges.

  • The panel further directed not to reduce the extent of Eco-Sensitive Zones of Western Ghats, taking cognizance of the recent floods in Kerala.
  • Earlier the Madhav Gadgil-led Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) report had created a political furore in the State with most of the political parties and a section of the church opposing it.
  • Therefore the Government appointed Kasturirangan-led High Level Working Group, to look into the WGEEP report. The Kasturirangan panel reduced areas under the eco-sensitive zone.
  • The Government accepted the Kasthurirangan report and issued the draft notifications on ecologically sensitive zones.

Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP)

  • A committee headed by ecologist Madhav Gadgil also known as the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) in 2011 recommended that all of the Western Ghats be declared as the Ecological Sensitive Areas (ESA) with only limited development allowed in graded zones.
  • The panel had classified the Western Ghats into Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ) 1, 2 and 3 of which ESZ-1 is high priority, almost all developmental activities (mining, thermal power plants etc) were restricted in it.
  • Further, no new dams based on large-scale storage be permitted in ESZ 1.
  • It specified that the system of governance of the environment should be bottom to top approach (right from Gram sabhas) rather than a top to bottom approach.
  • Constitution of a Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA), as a statutory authority under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, with the powers under Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • The report was criticized for being more environment-friendly and not in tune with the ground realities.

Kasturirangan committee

  • The committees major recommendations were:
    • Instead of the total area of Western Ghats, only 37% (i.e. 60,000 sq. km.) of the total area to be brought under ESA.
    • Complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining in ESA.
    • 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 projects to be allowed and hydropower projects be allowed only after detailed study.
    • Red industries i.e. which are highly polluting to be strictly banned.
    • The report recommended exclusion of inhabited regions and plantations from the purview of ESAs making it a pro farmer approach.
    • The Kasturirangam report was accepted by all states, however Kerala was most vocal against the report.

Way forward

  • It is a Development vs Conservation debate and politicisation of the issue will not give any fruitful results.
  • In the light of recent Kerala floods, a proper analysis based on scientific study followed by consensus among various stake holders by addressing respective concerns is required urgently.
  • Holistic view of threats and demands on the forest land, products and services, devising strategies to address these with clearly stated objectives for the authorities involved must be taken.
  • Destruction in the name of development should not be encouraged and sustainable development should be given priority.
  • Any further delay in the implementation will only accentuate degrading of the most prized natural resource of the country.
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