No protection to 63% of Western Ghats is perilous
Oct 27, 2013, 06.56 AM IST
PANAJI: The central government's in principle acceptance of the Kasturirangan report on Western Ghats, which will exclude 63% of the area from conservation, is likely to worsen the onslaught on the global biodiversity hotspot and virtually lead to its desertification, fear environmentalists.
The Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has endorsed the definition of the extent of the Western Ghats (WG) as demarcated by the high level working group (HLWG) headed by planning commission (science) member K Kasturirangan. The acceptance has dangerous implications as it means that 63% of the Western Ghats can be thrown open to developmental activities.
"He has studied all the definitions of Western Ghats of geologists, ecologists, anthropologists and redefined it. He only considers 37% out of almost 1,500 km stretch, including existing protected areas as ecologically sensitive areas. This comes to 60,000 sq km," an environmentalist said.
MoEF has accepted the ecologically sensitive area (ESA), as identified and delineated by HLWG, subject to certain conditions. Environmentalists are worried the exclusion of almost two thirds of the cultural landscape to development would pose a severe threat to natural assets.
"The HLWG prescriptions amount to attempts to maintain oasis of diversity in a desert of ecological devastation. Ecology teaches us that such fragmentation would lead, sooner, rather than later, to the desert overwhelming the oasis," Western Ghats ecology experts panel (WGEEP) chairman Madhav Gadgil said.
HLWG had studied the Gadgil-headed WGEEP report on the Western Ghats and suggested measures for protection of the Ghats. "But HLWG's myopic prescriptions focusing on forests ignore the vital water resources and aquatic biodiversity that are even more critical to the long term well-being of the people of peninsular India," Gadgil said.
As an immediate follow up after accepting the HLWG report, the ministry will shortly put in public domain a draft notification declaring the identified region of the Western Ghats as an ESA, to obtain feedback from stakeholders.
The ministry has also declared that it would initiate other steps to implement the HLWG recommendations. One of these is establishing its own high level committee to monitor the implementation of the Kasturirangan panel recommendations in a time bound manner.
A few ecologists call for an integrated approach before deciding the areas to be opened up for development and those to be kept inviolate. "The Western Ghats, the biodiversity hotspot, is the last refuge for different classes of biodiversity with precarious conservation concerns, but at the same time we can't shoot down development nor suggest large acreage of it be set up as no development zone," zoology associate professor Manoj Borkar said.
Herpetologist Nirmal Kulkarni said, "Piecemeal conservation of Western Ghats cannot be viewed as a long time solution. The Western Ghats is called the rain maker as it influences the south west monsoon. It is also called the living spine or spinal column of India, so one cannot look at only small stretches for conservation."
The Gadgil committee had excluded protected areas, but categorized areas beyond wildlife sanctuaries and national parks for protection, categorizing them as highly sensitive (ESZ-1), moderately sensitive (ESZ-II) and least sensitive (ESZ-III), based on social, cultural, topographical and other parameters.
"There would be no activities in ESZ-1. If there are any existing projects, the panel suggested they should be phased out and the area restored to its earlier condition. In ESZ-II, the activities are also to be phased out. In case of ESZ-3, activities would be allowed but with restrictions," a source said.
The Kasturirangan report has not considered any such gradation of eco-sensitive areas and unfortunately opened up eco-sensitive zones suggesting development activities with some restrictive measures.
"This is a subjective term and even if there are many well-intentioned restrictions, many are skeptical about the monitoring aspect. Lot of damage has been done to ecology, as all the rules have not been able to regulate mining activities in many parts of the country," the source said.
MoEF has assured that all other major HLWG recommendations, especially regarding financial arrangements to incentivize green growth in Western Ghats, participation of and involvement of local communities in decision making, data monitoring systems especially the establishment of decision support and monitoring centre for the biodiversity hotspot are accepted.