ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Experts’ Reports and a View from the Ground

Western Ghats Conservation

While no one can disagree with the Gadgil Committee on the Western Ghats that we need to "develop sustainably - conserve thoughtfully", we must disagree with them that the strategy adopted so far has been to "conserve thoughtlessly", at least as far as the forests and wildlife are concerned. We need not fear that the Western Ghats will vanish if the expert panel recommendations are not accepted in toto: the forest area is still in safe hands, and the people's organisations (the village forest committees) are fully aware of the importance of conservation to their own survival and for serving global interests. The government has to set up workable arrangements that have the acquiescence of the population at large, so they need not feel rattled by the hard stance adopted by the environmentalists in public.

The Western Ghats of south India are well known as a centre of biodiversity and as an important source of the river systems of peninsular India. In spite of the bursting population and the pressures due to development and poverty, we have still been able to maintain a sizeable proportion of these hills as protected areas (PAs) that retain much of the natural vegetation and ecology. As a world-renowned home of natural beauty and biological diversity, the Western Ghats have obviously been the focus of much intellectual attention, apart from their value in the culture and ethos of the people of the region. In 2010, a number of areas in the entire belt were together declared as a cluster of World Heritage sites, a signal triumph for the ecologists and conservationists (especially, in the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun), who coordinated the efforts to gain official international recognition for the region. Naturally, there has also been growing concern that the ecological and cultural values of the region should be protected against major threats by strengthening the legal status as an ecologically-sensitive region.

The Government of India in the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) appointed a committee of experts in 2010, under the chairmanship of Madhav Gadgil, the prominent environmentalist, to examine the matter and advise the government on setting up of a Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA). Accordingly, the Western Ghats Ecology Experts Panel (WGEEP) undertook extensive tours and consultations in the region, commissioned over 40 special studies on various aspects, and finally came out with a report in August 2011, which was then referred in 2012 to a High Level Working Group (HLWG) under the chairmanship of K Kasturirangan, a member (environment) of the Planning Commission of India. The suggestions of this review committee were then accepted with some modifications by the Government of India, and orders issued in 2013 to declare substantial parts of the Western Ghats an ecologically sensitive area (ESA) under the provisions of the Environmental Protection Act (1986). To the government’s consternation, there was strident criticism of the order, not just from the people in the area (who may have been expected to react adversely to the controls implicit in the notification), but also, less obviously, from the chairman and members of the Gadgil Committee as well. The issue which started as a well-intentioned move of the environment ministry to strengthen protection of the ecologically precious and fragile area (which is recognised by all parties as worthy of protection), has gathered political overtones, and thereby become a major subject for debate in the midst of the elections in 2014. This article throws some light on these issues.

To read the full text Login

Get instant access

New 3 Month Subscription
to Digital Archives at

₹826for India

$50for overseas users

Comments

(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top