The six Western Ghats States, including Kerala, have been restrained by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) from giving environmental clearance to activities that may adversely impact the eco-sensitive areas of the mountain ranges.
The panel directed that the extent of Eco-Sensitive Zones of the Western Ghats, which was notified by the Central government earlier, should not be reduced in view of the recent floods in Kerala.
Important directions issued by the NGT:
The extent of Eco-Sensitive Zones of the Western Ghats, which was notified by the Central government earlier, should not be reduced in view of the recent floods in Kerala.
Any alteration in the draft notification of zones may seriously affect the environment, especially in view of recent incidents in Kerala.
The Western Ghats Ecological Expert Panel had earlier proposed “much larger areas for being included in the eco-sensitive zone” through the Kasturirangan-led High-Level Working Group, also appointed by the MoEF to look into the WGEEP report, had reduced it. The Ministry had accepted the Kasthurirangan report and issued the draft notifications on ecologically sensitive zones.
Western Ghats region is under serious stress. The region is one of the richest biodiversity areas which needed to be conserved.
Environment Ministry set up the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel under Gadgil. The panel was asked to make an assessment of the ecology and biodiversity of the Western Ghats and suggest measures to conserve, protect and rejuvenate the entire range that stretches to over 1500 km along the coast, with its footprints in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu.
It defined the boundaries of the Western Ghats for the purposes of ecological management.
It proposed that this entire area is designated as an ecologically sensitive area (ESA). Within this area, smaller regions were to be identified as ecologically sensitive zones (ESZ) I, II or III based on their existing condition and nature of the threat.
It proposed to divide the area into about 2,200 grids, of which 75 percent would fall under ESZ I or II or under already existing protected areas such as wildlife sanctuaries or natural parks.
The committee proposed a Western Ghats Ecology Authority to regulate these activities in the area.
Important recommendations of Madhav Gadgil Committee:
- A ban on the cultivation of genetically modified in the 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 licenses in ESZ I and II area.
- No new dams, 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.
Why was Kasturirangan committee to set up?
None of the six concerned states agreed with the recommendations of the Gadgil Committee, which submitted its report in August 2011.
In August 2012, then Environment Minister constituted a High-Level Working Group on the Western Ghats under Kasturirangan to “examine” the Gadgil Committee report in a “holistic and multidisciplinary fashion in the light of responses received” from states, central ministries, and others.
Its report revealed that of the nearly 1,750 responses it had examined, 81% were not in favor of the Gadgil recommendations. In particular, Kerala had objected to the proposed ban on sand mining and quarrying, restrictions on transport infrastructure and wind energy projects, embargos on hydroelectric projects, and inter-basin transfer of river waters, and also the complete ban on new polluting industries.
Kerala flood is a lesson worth of learning for India’s disaster management system. India, having more than 7500 km of coastline, should have a strong disaster early warning and management system. Cooperation between the states can create an expert and integrated national structure, to manage any kind of natural disaster.