Protection of the ecology of western ghats

The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Environment Ministry to file its counter-affidavit to a petition filed by a minor, M. Kaviya, a resident of Nilgiris, seeking judicial intervention to protect the Western Ghats from destruction. Several environmental activists and NGOs such as the Goa Foundation and Peaceful Society, Bandora, from across six Western Ghats States have joined hands with Ms Kaviya to seek judicial intervention to reinstate the recommendations of the Dr Madhav Gadgil led Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel’s report.

Intergenerational Inequality

Ms Kaviya and seven other children have sought “justice in terms of intergenerational equity”, saying that unbridled “development” in the ancient mountain system would leave their generation without a future or a livelihood. They have sought an “effective, sustainable and credible conservation regime for the Western Ghats, its diverse ecosystems and ecologically sensitive zones”.

Importance of western ghat

Goa Foundation said the petition concerned a total land area of 1,29,037 sq. km. While 50 million people were directly dependent on the Western Ghats and its ecology, another 200 million were indirectly dependent. The future of the entire southern India was intimately linked with the healthy survival of the Western Ghats.

Gadgil committee recommendations: It recommended variable protection to 100% area of western ghats i.e., Protected areas, ESZ1, ESZ2, ESZ3.

ESZ1 almost all developmental activities to be restricted in it.

It asked for a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down approach to planning.

It also asked for decentralisation and more powers to local authorities.

It recommended constituting a statutory body Western Ghat Ecology Authority under EPA 1986 at central and state levels.

 Problems with the Gadgil report:

Its recommendations were not realistic in nature as it limits the developmental need of the country

Hence government constituted a new committee under Kasturi Rangan and it recommended (2013):

Only 37% area of the western ghats is under ESA.

Highly polluting industries should be banned by ESA.

No thermal power is allowed and hydropower projects are allowed only after a detailed study.

Mining in ESA areas should be phased out within the next five years or at the time of the expiry of the mining lease, whichever is earlier.

But this report has many lacunas;

It gave more power to bureaucrats as compared to local bodies.

Many fear that farmers would get evicted if the Kasturi Rangan Committee report is implemented. Under this report, the mining and quarry lobbies are expected to flourish. When these lobbies and tourism flourish, it will be disastrous to the environment.

The panel used remote sensing and aerial survey methods for zonal demarcation of land in the western ghats it led to the inclusion of ecologically non-sensitive areas under ESA and left out many ecologically sensitive areas.

Due to erroneous recommendations of the Kasturi Rangan report, people turned violent due to fear of their eviction if their village fall under the purview of ESA (123 villages were under ESA as per Kasturi Rangan report), hence Kerala’s CM (Oommen Chandy) appointed another committee to study the Kasturi Rangan Report.

Recommendations of Oommen Chandy report:

It recommended stopping land acquisition proceedings according to the Kasturi Rangan committee report.

Exclusion of inhabited regions and plantations from the purview of ecologically sensitive areas while the Kasturi Rangan report had said 123 villages fall under ESA purview. MoEF recently came out with the order barring mining in ecologically fragile areas (EFA not to be confused with ESA), setting up of thermal power plants and restricting buildings to less than 20,000 sq. ft in 123 villages mentioned in the Kasturi Rangan report.

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