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| Last Updated:12/09/2020

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Only 37 pc of Western Ghats ecologically sensitive: report


Marking a major departure from the report of the committee led by ecologist Madhav Gadgil that had called for declaring the entire Western Ghats as an ecologically sensitive area (ESA), the 10-member high-level working group headed by Planning Commission member K Kasturirangan has recommended that only 37 per cent of the biodiversity-rich Western Ghats — about 60,000 sq km of the total 1,64,000 sq km — be notified as ESA.

The new report, which was submitted to Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan on Wednesday, has recommended a blanket ban on mining, quarrying, sand mining, setting up thermal power projects, townships and area development projects in the 60,000 sq km area, along with a "cautious" approach to setting up hydropower units.

"... roughly 37 per cent of the total area defined as the boundary of the Western Ghats is ecologically sensitive. Over this area of some 60,000 sq km, spread over the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the working group has recommended a prohibitory regime on those activities with maximum interventionist and destructive impact on the environment," says the report.

Stating that it used detailed geospatial analysis for identification of ecologically sensitive areas, the Kasturirangan report has identified close to 60 per cent of the Western Ghats region as "cultural landscape", dominated by human settlements, agriculture and plantations. It has not recommended any regulatory mechanism for this area.

The report classifies the remaining 41 per cent of the area as "natural landscape", of which 37 per cent is biologically rich, containing protected areas, world heritage sites, tiger and elephant corridors.

The working group was constituted in August 2012 to advise the government on the recommendations made by the Western Ghats ecology expert panel led by Gadgil, which had said the entire Western Ghats should be declared as ESA. The Gadgil report, which was opposed by all the affected states, had suggested three levels of categorisation where regulatory measures for protection would be imposed and had recommended the establishment of a Western Ghats ecology authority.

On the other hand, the Kasturirangan report has suggested a "balanced and nuanced approach to say no to the most damaging and high impact activities and at the same time create an enabling process to incentivise environmentally sound development that benefits local livelihoods and economies".

Differing from the Gadgil panel, the new report says "environmentally sound development cannot preclude livelihood and economic options for this region. The answer will not lie in removing these economic options, but in providing better incentives to move them towards greener and more sustainable practices".

What Kasturirangan report says

* Athirappilly hydropower project in Kerala: The proposed project must be revaluated in terms of generation of energy and whether the plant load factor makes it viable against the loss of local populations of some species. The Gadgil report had opposed the project.

* 200 MW Gundya hydropower project in Karnataka: With the project being located in the ESA, the working group advised "extreme caution", including re-assessment of the ecological flow in the downstream areas, local damage to all forests and how it can be mitigated. The Gadgil report had opposed the project.

* Goa mining: The report has recommended a complete ban on mining activity in the ESA, and said current mining activities in the ESA should be phased out in five years or at the time of expiry of the mining lease.

* Mining moratorium in Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri districts of Maharashtra: With the two districts categorised as ESA, the sectoral restrictions and regulations will apply.