Protecting Western Ghats- Legal Implications
Updated: Jan 18
Western Ghats- The Mighty Sahyadri
Western ghats is a mountain range that runs parallel to the western coast of the Indian peninsula, located entirely in India. The western ghats are the home to 139 mammal species, 179 amphibian species, and various kinds of animals and birds. As many as 65 rivers originate in the Western Ghats and 400 million people living in South India are dependent on these rivers The western ghats are the boon to the extensive biodiversity, where the majority of India’s forest heritage and wildlife have been preserved.
Although the western Ghats provide as an important source for most of the flora and fauna of the country, the people as well as the so-called- people- represented- government forms the main reason for the declining wildlife of the Western Ghats. The Western Ghats have historically been heavily altered due to human impacts on natural landscapes through urbanization, agriculture, plantations, hydro-electric projects, roads, and deforestation. This is not surprising given that this region is one of the hotspots with the highest human population density.
Habitat fragmentation is the alteration of habitat and it resulted in the division of a continuous habitat into smaller, isolated fragments. humans can be blamed as the crucial cause of destruction, even though the natural causes are pertinent. Human activities such as roads, mining, agricultural land conversion, and urbanization contribute greatly to fragmentation. Habitat fragmentation has a greater effect on terrestrial animals as they have to cross human-inhabited areas and roads to reach the habitats and resources they depend upon. this had substantially lead to the road killings and human intervention into the wildlife.
Paving Way To The Kasturi Rangan and The Madhav Gadgil Report.
Western ghats is a Long Stretch of nature's paradise, gifted with abundant rivers such as Krishna, Kaveri, Godavari, Periyar, etc. But in recent years, there were many instances of water pollution in these rivers, thus contaminating nature, and endangering the existence of western ghats. Ministry of Environment and Forests of India set up in March 2010 an expert panel (Gadgil commission) to find a strategy for conserving these Ghats.
The panel, in its report, has classified the 142 taluks in the Western Ghats boundary into Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ) 1, 2, and 3. ESZ-1 being of high priority, almost all developmental activities (mining, thermal power plants, etc) were restricted in it. The report also recommended that “no new dams based on large-scale storage be permitted in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1.
Further, it suggested that the panel specifies that the present system of governance of the environment should be changed. It asked for the bottom to top approach (right from Gram Sabhas) rather than a top to bottom approach. It also asked for decentralization and more powers to local authorities. The commission also, recommended the constitution of a Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA), as a statutory authority under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, with the powers under Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
However, the report was condemned by the Central Government claiming that the report was not pragmatic, as it was criticized too eco-friendly and it ignored ground realities. This resulted in the constitution of another Committee, called the Kasturirangan Committee. However, the Kasthuri Rangan report had also welcomed criticizes. The Kasturi Rangan panel used remote sensing and aerial survey methods for zonal demarcation of land in the Western Ghats. The usage of such techniques, without examining the ground reality, has caused many errors in the report. The power is vested with the bureaucrats and forest officials and not with gram Sabhas.
Many fear that the farmers would get evicted if the Kasturi Rangan Committee report is implemented. Since this report is slightly lenient than the Gadgil report, the mining and quarrying lobbies are expected to flourish. When these lobbies and tourism flourish, it will be disastrous for the environment. There will be a water shortage, there will be pollution. Finally, farmers will have to quit the area. They will not be able to do farming there. The use of the “erroneous method” had caused the inclusion of many villages under Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA) though there were only rubber plantations and no forest land Also, the Kasturi Rangan report included ecologically non-sensitive areas under ESA and left out many ecologically sensitive areas.
The Current Status
Both the reports are still not accepted and are kept aside by the Ministry of, as it was argued that its implementation caused some socio-legal difficulties. It was suggested Dr. Madhav Gadgil The rapid flood which Kerala had to encounter in 2018 was the result of manmade consequences of destruction caused in western ghats and warned the authorities it is high time to take appropriate actions regarding the preservation of the western ghats.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Swathi. Ashok. Nair is currently pursuing Law at the School of Legal Studies, CUSAT, Kerala.
They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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