[Editorial Analysis] Trouble in the hills: on Western Ghats ecology

Mains Paper: 3 | Environment and Ecology

Prelims level: Western Ghats ecology

Mains level:  There should be public consultation on expert reports on the Western Ghats ecology.

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 policymaking,

• He also warned that Goa may also be in the line of nature’s fury.

Observations made from WGEEP report:

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

• They must go back to the drawing table with the reports of both the Gadgil Committee and the Kasturirangan Committee, which was set up to examine the WGEEP report.

• 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.

• It has to adopt the zoning system that it proposed. This can keep incompatible activities out of the Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZs).

• Western Ghats — spread over 1,29,037 sq km according to the WGEEP estimate and 1,64,280 sq km

• The Kasturirangan panel is the calculation of what constitutes the sensitive core and what activities can be carried out there.

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

• But population estimates for the sensitive zones vary greatly, based on interpretations of the ESZs.

• In Kerala, for instance, one expert assessment says 39 lakh households are in the ESZs outlined by the WGEEP, but the figure drops sharply to four lakh households for a smaller area of zones identified by the Kasturirangan panel.

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 are available.

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

• Kerala’s Finance Minister, Thomas Isaac, has acknowledged the need to review decisions affecting the environment, in the wake of the floods.

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

Link – https://tt93a.app.goo.gl/qxQuXVmuyKZ5kpkS6

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