Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Western Ghat panel submits report

Development activities including thermal power projects, mining and other polluting industries should not be allowed in a 60,000 sq km ecologically sensitive “natural landscape” of Western Ghats, a mountainous range that passes through six states, a Government panel said on Wednesday.
In its report, the 10-member high-level working group, headed by eminent scientist K. Kasturirangan, has not recommended any regulatory mechanism for the remaining 96,000 sq km area of the Western Ghats that is defined as “the cultural landscape” in which there are human settlements, plantations and agriculture. It, however, suggested “incentivise green growth” in such areas.
The report was submitted to Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarjan on Wednesday.
The panel was constituted to examine the Western Ghats ecology expert panel report prepared under the leadership of environmentalist Madhav Gadgil. “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,” the panel says in its report.
Moving away from the suggestions of the Gadgil panel, which had recommended a blanket approach consisting of guidelines for sector-wise activities, which would be permitted in the ecologically sensitive zones, the new panel said that environmentally sound development cannot preclude livelihood and economic options for the region.
The answer to the question of how to manage and conserve the Ghats will not lie in removing these economic options, but in providing better incentives to move them towards greener and more sustainable practices, it says.
“The message of the report is very worrying because it is saying to us that 37 per cent of the Western Ghats’ total geographic area (1.6 lakh sq km) is all that is left today is what can be defined as the natural landscape, which is biodiversity rich, and therefore we are saying that area has to be protected at all costs,” Environmentalist Sunita Narain, who is a member of the panel, told PTI.
The Working Group was constituted to advise the government on the recommendations of an earlier report of ecologist Madhav Gadgil-led Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP).
Asked whether the Kasturirangan panel has diluted or rejected Gadgil committee report, Ms. Narain said the new panel’s recommendation is that Western Ghats has to be protected and it has moved to make the Gadgil committee report “implementable.”
“We have accepted the Gadgil basis. We have moved to make the report implementable. Our job was not to accept or reject Gadgil report. Our job was to find a way to implement the agenda,” she said.
The WGEEP had recommended that the entire Western Ghats should be declared as an ecologically sensitive area. It had suggested three levels of categorisation where regulatory measures for protection would be imposed and had recommended the establishment of the Western Ghats Ecology Authority for management of the Ghats.
The Kasturirangan panel constituted after states raised apprehensions about the Gadgil committee suggestions including that it could be a no-development zone across 70 per cent of Western Ghats and a centralised authority should be constituted to the Ghats’ management.
The new panel has suggested a decentralized structure in each village (an estimated 4000 villages consisting of 40 lakh people) in the Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA).
The report draws upon the basic framework suggested by the WGEEP to use remote sensing technologies to demarcate the ecologically sensitive areas of the Western Ghats but with two key differences.
First, it used satellite data, down to 24 m resolution, as against 9 km used by WGEEP. The finer resolution was possible because of the collaboration with NRSC/ISRO, which used datasets to distinguish vegetation types over the landscape of the entire Western Ghats.
Second, the report distinguishes between the cultural and the natural landscape of the region. Using remote sensing technology, it has found that the cultural landscape - which includes human settlements, agricultural fields and plantations - covers 58.44 per cent of the region.

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