Publication: The Times Of India Kochi;Date: Oct 21, 2013;Section: Times City;Page: 2
CENTRE’S CHOICE LEAVES GREENS IN A FIX
Construction & Mining Will Be Allowed In Fragile Eco Sensitive Areas If Kasturirangan Report Is Implemented
Viju B | TNN
With chief minister Oommen Chandy, who also holds the forest ministry portfolio, supporting the controversial Kasturirangan high level working group (HLWG) report, environmentalists fear that mining and quarrying allowed in eco sensitive zones of the Western Ghats will ruin the biodiversity of the region. The HLWG report that was approved by the Union ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) on October 19 allows private development in 63% of the Western Ghats region. State government will convene an all-party meeting on Monday to discuss the report and submit the state’s stance to MoEF. LDF has informed that it will boycott the meeting.
The HLWG report allows private construction in eco sensitive areas (ESA) up to a built up area of 20,000 square meters, roughly the size of a big shopping mall. This will, no doubt, put burden on areas that are already under threat due to indiscriminate construction in the name of tourism-related activity, say ecologists.
Environmentalists point out that eco sensitive districts like Idukki and Wayanad, bordering the forests of Western Ghats, are already under huge strain. HLWG report has diluted the buffer zones around the forest and this will lead to increased man-animal conflict, disruption of riverine system, thereby affecting the flora and fauna of the region.
The Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel report (WGEEP) report prepared by Madhav Gadgil had recommended that the 1.4 lakh square kilometres in the Western Ghats needs to be conserved without disturbing the livelihood and traditional occupation of the inhabitants.
HLWG has categorised the Western Ghats into just two segments: natural and cultural landscapes. A lot of areas under both labels - forest, national parks and wildlife parks, areas with rich biodiversity and wildlife corridors – will now see ‘private development’. The WGEEP report follows a uniform gradation with three broad zones that do not allow mining and quarrying in ESZ 1 and ESZ 2.
“HLWG has covered ESZ 1. But the question is what will happen to ESZ 1 and 2 areas that are rich in bio-diversity. Do not forget that this is a catchment area too. The mining in Goa is classic example where huge tracts of wildlife corridors and riverine systems were polluted,” said director of river research centre Latha Anantha. HLWG has demarcated 123 villages in 24 taluks as ESA while the WGEEP report had earmarked 25 taluks under different zones. “A startling example is Vagamon in Idukki that has not been marked as ESA by HLWG though it has over 1,200 acres of grasslands,” said legal coordinator of NGO One earth one life Harish V. Dr V S Vijayan, who was part of the WGEEP panel, said HLWG seems to have released eco-fragile lands for unscrupulous development.
WHAT KASTURIRANGAN PANEL SAID
The high-level working group (HLWG) led by Dr Kasturirangan identified approximately 37% of the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive area, covering 60,000 sq km of natural landscape spread across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The ecologically sensitive area (ESA) includes protected areas and world heritage sites of Western Ghats.
New building and construction projects less than 20,000 sq m for township and area development as well as other such activities will be allowed in ESA.
It has recommended a ban of mining, quarrying and sand mining, starting thermal power plants and red category of industries in ESA.
Hydro and wind power generation will be allowed in ESA subject to stringent conditions.
The boundary of ESA, the regulatory regime would be fine-tuned after a draft notification is placed in the public domain for comments/ views of stakeholders including State Governments of the region.
ABOUT WESTERN GHATS
Western Ghats is a mountain range along the western side of India. It is a Unesco world heritage site and is one of the eight hotspots of biological diversity in the world. The range starts near the Gujarat and Maharashtra border and runs approximately 1,600 km through Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala till Kanyakumari. These hills form a catchment area for complex riverine drainage systems that drain almost 40% of India. The area has over 5,000 species of flowering plants, 139 mammal species, 508 bird species and 179 amphibian species POINT OF CONFLICT
The WGEEP report used a gradual zoning method to conserve ESZ by categorizing the region in three broad segments. HLWG report has just two categories - natural landscape and cultural landscape – that open up more areas for private development and mining. HLWG report also does not have a creative solution for water conservation and has even suggested inter-basin water transfer in its report. HLWG is silent on taking approval from local bodies before implementing the report. WHAT GADGIL COMMITTEE RECOMMENDED
The Madhav Gadgil-led Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel (WGEEP) report recommended that the 1.4 lakh sq km in the Western Ghats ecosystem be graded into three ecologically sensitive zones (ESZ) in a uniform phased manner without adversely affecting the livelihood or inhabitants.
In ESZ-1 – areas close to Western Ghats - private forest land cannot be used for non-forest purpose or agricultural activity. Fourteen taluks come under this category. Wayanad and Idukki have the maximum number of taluks in ESZ-1. But it does, however, allow extension of village settlements to accommodate the increase in population. It supports road and public infrastructure expansion either provided there is a nod from MoEF.
ESZ-2 allows renovation and extension of existing structures such as hotels and resorts. The WGEEP has banned monoculture, eucalyptus and exotic plant farming and mining activity in ESZ 1, 2 areas.
ESZ-3 allows the use of land for non-agriculture purpose and permission for this activity is given only after looking into various socio-economic parameters of the area.
The WGEEP report states that report can be implemented only after consultation and approval of grama Sabhas and is against mega- hydel, thermal, mining and quarrying projects in ESZ. The report talks of introducing organic farming and banning pesticides over a period of time in a phased manner.