Context: Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change interacted with Chief Ministers, Cabinet Ministers & State Government Officers of six states to discuss issues relating to notification of Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) pertaining to Western Ghats.
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The discussion took place with the Chief Ministers of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu - six states that contain notified areas in the Western Ghats (WG) region as ecologically sensitive areas (ESA).
- To conserve and protect the biodiversity of Western Ghats while allowing for sustainable and inclusive development of the region, Government of India had constituted a High Level Working Group under the Chairmanship of Dr. Kasturirangan.
- The Committee had recommended that identified geographical areas falling in the six States of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu may be declared as Ecologically Sensitive Areas.
- A draft notification was issued in 2018 mentioning the areas to be notified in the ESA.
Western Ghats(WGs) and their Importance:
- It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the eight "hottest hot-spots" of biological diversity in the world, Western Ghats is a mountain range that runs parallel to the western coast of the Indian peninsula.
- Protected areas: A total of 39 national parks, wildlife sanctuaries in WGs region have been designated as world heritage sites - twenty in Kerala, ten in Karnataka, five in Tamil Nadu and four in Maharashtra.
- Species diversity: It has over 7,402 species of flowering plants, 1,814 species of non-flowering plants, 139 mammal species, 508 bird species, 179 amphibian species, 6,000 insects species and 290 freshwater fish species.
Significance of Wetern Ghats declared as an ESA: Thus, the demarcation of an ESA is an effort to protect the fragile ecosystem from indiscriminate industrialisation, mining and unregulated development. Gadgil and Kasturirangan committees were appointed to identify the areas that needed to be kept out from such activities.
Prominent ecological studies on Western Ghats
- The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), also known as the Gadgil Commission has designated the entire hill range as an Ecologically Sensitive Area.
- The panel has classified Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ) 1, 2 and 3.
- ESZ 1: No new dams based on large-scale storage be permitted.
- For Goa: An indefinite moratorium on new environmental clearances for mining in ESZ 1 and 2.
- No new polluting industries, including coal-based power plants, should be allowed in ESZ 1 and 2.
- The existing red and orange category industries should be asked to switch to zero pollution by 2016.
- Bottom up approach: From Gram sabhas to top for assessing and designating ESZs.
- Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA): A statutory authority, to be formed which enjoys the powers under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to exercise jurisdiction over 6 WGs states.
- Criticism: The major criticism faced by Gadgil Committee was that it was more environment-friendly and is not in tune with the ground realities.
To balance the two concerns of development and environment protection, Kasturirangan committee was constituted to reexamine the recommendations of Gadgil commission.
- 37% of the Western Ghats to be under the ESA zones, down from the 67% suggested by the Gadgil report.
- Cultural and natural landscape:
- Cultural landscapes include human settlements, agricultural fields and plantations, covering 58.44% of the Western Ghats.
- It identified 90% of the remaining natural landscape area marked as an ESA. The panel called for a complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining in this area.
- Pro-farmer recommendations: Including the exclusion of inhabited regions and plantations from the purview of ESAs.
- Criticism: The major criticism of the committee is it used remote sensing and aerial survey methods for zonal demarcation of land in WGs. The use of this erroneous method had caused inclusion of many villages under ESAs.
- Consensus building: It was decided at the meeting that state specific issues shall be further deliberated so as to arrive at a consensus on the issue.
- Wider and more open consultation with people at all levels is needed for more complicated issue of assessment of ecosystem services delivered by the forests, lakes, rivers to communities.
Image Source: Down To Earth