02 July 2019


Trouble in the hills

By Aspire IAS

Trouble in the hills

Theme: Western Ghats ecology



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

Westren ghats ecology conservation

  • At issue in the Western Ghats — spread over 1,29,037 sq km according to the WGEEP estimate and 1,64,280 sq km as per 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.
  • The goal has to be sustainable development for the Ghats as a whole.

What needs to be done?

  • The issue of allowing extractive industries such as quarrying and mining to operate is 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, and to adopt the zoning system that it proposed.
  • A moratorium on quarrying and mining in the identified sensitive zones, in Kerala and also other States, is necessary to assess their environmental impact.
  • This can keep incompatible activities out of the Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZs)
  • The role of big hydroelectric dams, built during an era of rising power demand and deficits, must now be considered afresh and proposals for new ones dropped.

Way Forward:

  • The State governments that are mainly responsible for the Western Ghats — Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Goa and Maharashtra — 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.
  • Public consultation on the expert reports that includes people’s representatives will find greater resonance now, and help chart a sustainable path ahead.