Recently, Karnataka Chief Minister informed the Centre that the state is opposed to the Kasturirangan Committee report on Western Ghats.
What are the recommendations of the Kasturirangan committee report?
- The Kasturirangan committee report proposes 37 per cent of the total area of Western Ghats, which is roughly 60,000 square kilometres, to be declared as eco-sensitive area (ESA).
- Out of this, 20,668 sq km of the area falls in Karnataka covering 1,576 villages.
- The report recommended a blanket ban on mining, quarrying, setting up of red category industries and thermal power projects.
- It also stated that the impact of infrastructural projects on the forest and wildlife should be studied before permission is given for these activities.
- It also stated that the UNESCO Heritage tag is an opportunity to build global and domestic recognition of the enormous natural wealth that exists in the Western Ghats.
- The 39 sites are located across the Western Ghats and distributed across the states (Kerala 19), Karnataka (10), Tamil Nadu (6) and Maharashtra (4).
- The boundary of the sites, are in most cases, boundaries of the legally demarcated national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, tiger reserves and forest divisions and therefore, already accorded with high level of protection.
- The Eco-Sensitive Area mapping and demarcation done by the committee also indicates that all sites are within this area.
- The state governments should view this development and build a plan to protect, conserve and value the resources and opportunities of the region.
- The state of Karnataka has the highest percentage of the ESA- 46.50 per cent.
Why have the successive governments in Karnataka rejected the report?
- The state government believes that implementation of the report will halt the developmental activities in the region.
- Karnataka has the distinction of being one of the states with extensive forest cover and the government has taken care to protect the biodiversity of Western Ghats.
- The Kasturirangan report has been prepared based on the satellite images, but the ground reality is different.
- People of the region have adopted agriculture and horticultural activities in an eco-friendly manner.
- Priority has been accorded for environment protection under the Forest Protection Act. In this background bringing one more law that would affect the livelihood of the local people is not appropriate.
- Uttara Kannada district have always opposed the Kasturirangan report since 600-plus villages will fall under the eco-sensitive area if the report is implemented.
What impact will the non-implementation of the report have on the Western Ghats?
- Considering the changes in climate (evident from recurring floods, droughts, landslides, increasing temperature, etc), which would affect the livelihood of all people (irrespective of poor or rich) and hurt the nation’s economy, it is prudent to conserve the fragile ecosystems that costs less compared to the situation prone to calamities (with changes in the climate) than spending money /resources for restoration / rejuvenation.
- If the government truly cares for the welfare of 22 crore people who are sustained by the Western Ghats, it would accept at least 85 per cent of the recommendations of the Kasturirangan Committee. Else, it would be the reason for the sufferings of the people.
What is the present status of the deemed forest land in Karnataka?
- While there is a growing concern over the forest encroachments in Karnataka, the state government has planned to further shrink the deemed forest area from 3,30,186.938 hectares to 2 lakh hectares.
- The state expert committee in 1997 had identified 10 lakh hectares of deemed forest area which over the years were shrunk by the successive governments.
- the state government has made a mockery of the existing eco-sensitive zones across the forest areas. “There have been massive encroachments across the state forest areas and these have been done at the behest of political leaders.
Back to Basics
Madhav Gadgil Committee
- This is an environmental research commission, and it is named after Madhav Gadgil, its chairman. The formal name of this commission is Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP).
- A report had been submitted by this committee to the government of India on 31 August 2011, with suggestions on how to improve the condition of Western Ghats.
- Gadgil committee divided the total area into 3 ESA zones. 60% of the area comes under the highest-priority Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA-1). No kind of development activity is allowed to take place in this zone, according to the report. 25% of the area comes under the lowest-priority Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA-3), and development activities are allowed to be carried out in this area. 15% of the remaining area comes under ESA-2.
- Let us take mining as an example—no permission for mining to be carried out in ESA-1. Existing mining- activities can be carried out in ESA-2. New mining activities can be taken up in ESA-3.
Recommendations of the Gadgil Committee Report
- There were eminent ecologists in the Gadgil committee, and it was evident in the recommendations they provided in the report. The report received a lot of backlashes, saying it was in favour of the environment and environmentalists and not development or any illegal activity. There is still a lot of debate going on over the environment and development. Balancing one without compromising the other is a tough job. It recommended:
- Ban on cultivation of genetically modified in entire area
- Plastic bags to be phased out in three years
- No new special economic zones or hill stations to be allowed
- Ban on conversion of public lands to private lands, and on diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes in ESZ I and II
- No new mining licences in ESZ I and II area
- No new dams in ESZ I
- No new thermal power plants or large scale wind power projects in ESZ I
- No new polluting industries in ESZ I and ESZ II areas
- No new railway lines or major roads in ESZ I and II areas
- Strict regulation of tourism
- Cumulative impact assessment for all new projects like dams, mines, tourism, housing
- Phase-out of all chemical pesticides within five to eight years in ESZ I and ESZ II
Criticism faced by the Gadgil Committee Report
- The Madhav Gadgil Committee faced major criticism for being more concerned with the environment than development. Their recommendations were considered too impractical to be implemented.
- A complete eco-sensitive cover of the Western Ghats was asked by the Gadgil committee. This would affect the energy and developments fronts of many states.
- It was also criticized for suggesting the constitution set up a new authority called WGEA, insisting that the environment could be protected under the existing laws as well.
- A lot of revenue losses would be incurred by implementing their recommendation. The committee hasn’t provided any solution for that.
- The report recommended against the construction of dams in the Western Ghats. It would be a huge blow on the power sector due to the increasing energy requirements of our country.
- The most criticism and protests against the reports were mainly from sand mining and quarrying industries. Fear was created among the farmers of Kerala that the report was against them that the implementation of these recommendations would lose their livelihoods.
- A way out could be to create the regulatory framework that was proposed by the Gadgil panel, in the form of an apex Western Ghats Ecology Authority and the State-level units, under the Environment (Protection) Act, and to adopt the zoning system that it proposed. This can keep incompatible activities out of the Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZs).
- The goal has to be sustainable development for the Ghats as a whole.
- The way forward is that the communities living in Western Ghats should assert their constitutional democratic rights.
- The recommendations of both the report should be discussed at the level of every local body — gram panchayats, ward sabhas and municipalities — their feedback should be sought and through the democratic process the decision should be made.
- Public consultation on the expert reports that includes people’s representatives will find greater resonance now, and help chart a sustainable path ahead.
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