Marking a major departure from the report of the committee led by ecologist Madhav Gadgil that had called for declaring the entire Western Ghats as an ecologically sensitive area (ESA), the 10-member high-level working group headed by Planning Commission member K Kasturirangan has recommended that only 37 per cent of the biodiversity-rich Western Ghats — about 60,000 sq km of the total 1,64,000 sq km — be notified as ESA.

The new report, which was submitted to Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan on Wednesday, has recommended a blanket ban on mining, quarrying, sand mining, setting up thermal power projects, townships and area development projects in the 60,000 sq km area, along with a “cautious” approach to setting up hydropower units.

“… roughly 37 per cent of the total area defined as the boundary of the Western Ghats is ecologically sensitive. Over this area of some 60,000 sq km, spread over the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the working group has recommended a prohibitory regime on those activities with maximum interventionist and destructive impact on the environment,” says the report.

Stating that it used detailed geospatial analysis for identification of ecologically sensitive areas, the Kasturirangan report has identified close to 60 per cent of the Western Ghats region as “cultural landscape”, dominated by human settlements, agriculture and plantations. It has not recommended any regulatory mechanism for this area.

The report classifies the remaining 41 per cent of the area as “natural landscape”, of which 37 per cent is biologically rich, containing protected areas, world heritage sites, tiger and elephant corridors.

The working group was constituted in August 2012 to advise the government on the recommendations made by the Western Ghats ecology expert panel led by Gadgil, which had said the entire Western Ghats should be declared as ESA. The Gadgil report, which was opposed by all the affected states, had suggested three levels of categorisation where regulatory measures for protection would be imposed and had recommended the establishment of a Western Ghats ecology authority.

Courtesy: The New Indian Express