❏ The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Environment Ministry to ﬁle its counter aﬃdavit to a petition ﬁled by a minor, M. Kaviya, a resident of Nilgiris, seeking judicial intervention to protect the Western Ghats from destruction.
❏ The petition has been in limbo for the past two years since the top court issued a notice in 2020.
❏ Several environmental activists and NGOs such as the Goa Foundation and Peaceful Society, Bandora, from across six Western Ghats States have joined hands with Ms. Kaviya to seek judicial intervention to reinstate the recommendations of the Dr. Madhav Gadgil Western
Ghats Ecology Expert Panel’s report.
Why was the Gadgil Committee Constituted?
- The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, constituted, by an order dated
2010, a Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) headed by Prof. Madhav Gadgil
- To assess the status of ecology, demarcate areas within the Western Ghats Region for notifying ecologically sensitive zones under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
- Suggest modalities for the conservation, protection and rejuvenation of the Western Ghats Region through a comprehensive consultation process with all stakeholders.
- Recommend modalities for the establishment of Western Ghats Ecology Authority under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, a professional body to manage the ecology, promote sustainable development in the region.
What were the Gadgil Committee Recommendations
- Indeﬁnite moratorium on new environmental clearances for mining in Ecologically Sensitive Zones 1 and 2.
- A phasing out of mining from ESZ 1 by next ﬁve years, Phase-out of all chemical pesticides within ﬁve to eight years in ESZ I and ESZ II.
- Continuing existing mining in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 2 under strict regulation with an eﬀective social audit mechanism.
- Prohibited new red and orange category industries, such as coal based power plants, in Ecologically Sensitive Zones 1 and 2..
- Cultivation of Genetically Modiﬁed crops was banned in the entire region.
- No new special economic zones or hill stations, dams, railway lines or major roads in Ecologically Sensitive zone-1 and zone-2 areas.
- Ban on conversion of public lands to private lands, and on diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes in ESZ -1and ESZ -2 areas.
- Regulating tourism
What was the need for the Kasturirangan Committee subsequently?
- None of the six concerned states accepted the Gadgil committee report.
- In August 2012, a High-Level Working Group on Western Ghats under Kasturirangan was constituted to “examine” the Gadgil Committee report in a “holistic and multidisciplinary fashion in the light of responses received” from various stakeholders.
What were the observations of the Kasturirangan Committee
- It classiﬁed 60% of the Western Ghats as a cultural landscape with human settlements, agriculture and plantations.
- Only 37% classiﬁed as an ecologically sensitive area (ESA)
- The report categorized areas on the basis of their ecological sensitivity.
- Opined that the “blanket prescription” approach of the Gadgil committee would be harmful to the economy.
What it Recommended?
- Mining, Quarrying, Sand Mining, Thermal Power plants, Township and Area Development Projects, ‘Red Industries’ were banned.
- Hydroelectric power projects were based only at those places where there have been a standard
ecological ﬂow of 30%, and were restricted otherwise.
- Cumulative impact assessment for Hydro-electric power projects of India.
- The ‘Orange’ category industries (food processing industry) were not banned, but careful process and production techniques were prioritized to minimize environmental damage.
- Infrastructure projects related to transport to be approved only after cumulative impact.
- Railway transport systems have to be carefully planned, keeping in mind their negative impacts on wildlife and habitat.
- Emphasizes eco-friendly tourism through community ownership.
What were the Controversies
- Experts are divided in their opinion over treating the entire Ghat region as a homogeneous entity, despite micro-level diﬀerences, calling for ground veriﬁcation.
- Diﬀerence of opinion on cardamom cultivation being eco-friendly.
- There is not much emphasis on capacity building among traditional dwellers, Scheduled Tribe populations, which could possibly hamper their livelihood when recommendations are implemented.
- Possible dilution of the administrative power and role of the Gram Sabha as a decision-making body at grassroots level. Both the committees diﬀered on their approach.
- Protests by various grassroots stakeholders across diﬀerent states, against the recommendation of the report.
- A scientiﬁc study based on diﬀerent concerns raised by experts should follow comprehensive debate dialogue for evolving consensus.