Western Ghat preservation #28

Syllabus

Mains Paper: 3 | Environment and Ecology

'The recent Kerala flooding is due to anthropogenic factors'. Discuss in light of Gadgil committee report.

Context

• The catastrophic monsoon floods in Kerala and parts of Karnataka have revived the debate on whether political expediency trumped science.

• Seven years ago, the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel issued recommendations for the preservation of the fragile western peninsular region.

Madhav Gadgil, who chaired the Union Environment Ministry’s WGEEP, has said the recent havoc in Kerala is a consequence of short-sighted policy making and also warned that Goa may also be in the line of nature’s fury.  Anthropogenic factors were also responsible for the Kedarnath disaster in 2013.

Gadgil committee (WGEEP) recommendation:

  1. The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) designated the entire hill range as an Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA).
  2. The panel  the Western Ghats boundary into Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ) 1, 2 and 3.
  3. ESZ-1 being of high priority, almost all developmental activities (mining, thermal power plants etc) were restricted in it.
  4. Gadgil report recommended that “no new dams based on large-scale storage be permitted in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1. .
  5.  It asked for a bottom to top approach (right from Gram sabhas) rather than a top to bottom approach. It also asked for decentralization and more powers to local authorities.
  6. The commission recommended constitution of a Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA), as a statutory authority.
  • The Kasturirngan report diluted the reccomendations of Gadgil Committee report.  Instead of the total area of Western Ghats, only 37% (i.e. 60,000 sq. km.) of the total area be brought under ESA.

Observations made from WGEEP report:

• The State governments that are mainly responsible for the Western Ghats — Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Goa and Maharashtra.

• The task before them is to initiate correctives to environmental policy decisions.

• This is not going to be easy, given the need to balance human development pressures with stronger protection of the Western Ghats ecology.

• The issue of allowing extractive industries such as quarrying and mining to operate is arguably the most contentious.

• 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.

• The entire system is globally acknowledged as a biodiversity hotspot.

Conclusion

• The goal has to be sustainable development for the Ghats as a whole.

• The role of big hydroelectric dams, built during an era of rising power demand and deficits. It must now be considered afresh and proposals for new ones dropped.

• Other low-impact forms of green energy led by solar power should be considered.

• A moratorium on quarrying and mining in the identified sensitive zones, in Kerala and also other States, is necessary to assess their environmental impact.

• Public consultation on the expert reports that include people’s representatives will find greater resonance now and help chart a sustainable path ahead.

Related terms:

  • Ecologically sensitive zone
  • Biodiversity hotspots
  • Himalayan Tsunami

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