CURRENT AFFAIRS



02 July 2019


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Green Tribunal steps into conserve Ghats

By Aspire IAS

Green Tribunal steps into conserve Ghats

Details:

  • The Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) panel, which permitted the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEF and CC) to re-publish the draft notification on Eco-Sensitive Zones, which expired on August 26, ordered that the matter may be finalised within six months. It also ordered that the draft of the republished notification be placed on the record of the tribunal.
  • The Bench issued the order based on a petition filed by the Goa Foundation
  • The Principal Bench of the NGT, which noted that the ecology of the Western Ghats region was under serious stress, has highlighted the fact that Western Ghats region is one of the richest biodiversity areas which needed to be conserved.
  • The six Western Ghats States have been restrained by the NGT from giving environmental clearance to activities that may adversely impact the eco-sensitive areas of the mountain ranges.
  • NGT directed that the extent of Eco-Sensitive Zones of Western Ghats, which was notified by the Central government earlier, should not be reduced in view of the recent floods in Kerala.

Background:

  • In the year 2010, Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) was constituted by the Central Government, under the chairmanship of Madhav Gadgil.
  • WGEEP issued recommendations for the preservation of the fragile western peninsular region.
  • The Western Ghats Ecological Expert Panel had  proposed “much larger areas for being included in the eco-sensitive zone”. The Madhav Gadgil-led Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) report had created a political furore in the State with most of the political parties and a section of the church opposing it.
  • Kasturirangan-led High Level Working Group, also appointed by the MoEF to looked into the WGEEP report. Its report revealed that of the nearly 1,750 responses it had examined, 81% were not in favour of the Gadgil recommendations. In particular, Kerala had objected to the proposed ban on sand mining and quarrying, restrictions on transport infrastructure and wind energy projects, embargos on hydroelectric projects, and inter-basin transfer of river waters, and also the complete ban on new polluting industries.
  • The Kasturirangan committee had reduced the Ecological sensitive zone to 37%.
  • The Ministry had accepted the Kasthurirangan report and issued the draft notifications on ecologically sensitive zones.

Highlights of Gadgil Report:

  • Recommended that the entire stretch of the Western Ghats should be declared as Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA).
  • It recommended the division of region into three zones – ESZ1, ESZ2, ESZ3 and gave a broad outline of certain restrictions for each zone.
  • The committee recommended the division of region into zones at the block/taluk level.
  • It recommended that no new polluting industries (red and orange) were to be permitted in ESZ1 and ESZ2 and gradual phasing out of such existing industries by 2016.  Complete ban on mining in ESZ1 and regulation of mining in ESZ-2.
  • It was recommended that bottom up approach be followed for conservation of Western Ghats.
  • Western Ghats Ecological Authority was proposed to be set up as a statutory body and given powers under the Environment protection Act 1986.
  • There were many criticisms of the Gadgil Committee Report. Some among them were that
  1. The report was not prepared keeping in mind the ground realities. If the report is implemented, the development and the energy requirements in the states coming within the boundary of Western Ghats would be adversely affected.
  2. There is no need to set up a new body while there are many such bodies for the protection of environment.
  • Madhav Gadgil has said the recent havoc in Kerala is a consequence of short-sighted policymaking, and warned that Goa may also be in the line of nature’s fury.
  • Following severe resistance to the implementation of Gadgil Committee report, Kasturirangan Panel was set up in 2012 to advise the government on Gadgil Committee Report.

Kasturirangan Report:

  • Divide the Western Ghats into Natural Landscape and Cultural Landscape
  • Of the natural landscape, it picked out 37% as “biologically rich” and with “some measure of contiguity”. Any restrictions were placed in this area.
  • It proposed the demarcation of ESZ be done at the village level.
  • Only red category (heavy polluting) industries were restricted.
  • Hydro power project would be given the green signal on a case to case basis, post assessment of its benefits and the possible damage it could cause.

Gadgil report laid too much importance to the environment, Kasturirangan report was biased towards development. Kasturi Rangan report was criticized by many as that it provided loopholes for mining, which if allowed would turn detrimental to the environment, in long-term will affect development too. Kasturirangan report got the tag as anti-environmental soon after its release. But this report was tagged anti-development too by many who fear that their livelihood and interests will be affected.

Way Forward:

  • Now, the six Western Ghats States, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat have been restrained by the NGT from giving environmental clearance to activities that may adversely impact the eco-sensitive areas of the mountain ranges. Any alteration in the draft notification of zones may seriously affect the environment.
  • Kerala flood is a lesson worth of learning for India’s disaster management system. India should have a strong disaster early warning and management system. Cooperation between the states can create an expert and integrated national structure, to manage any kind of natural disaster.
  • Western Ghats region is under serious stress. The region is one of the richest biodiversity areas which needed to be conserved.