Apex court upheld Green Tribunal order on WGEEP report
The Supreme Court dismissed the Kerala government appeal which challenged the jurisdiction of National Green Tribunal (NGT) which directed the Kerala government to stick to the report of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), headed by Madhav Gadgil, while granting environmental clearance. While the State wants both sustainable development and environment protection to go hand in hand the apex court and the NGT intends to provide protection to the Western Ghats as suggested in Gadgil committee report and wants the Kerala government to adhere to it, the State is of the view that the tribunal’s direction would hinder the development process in the State and therefore sought quashing of the order and an interim stay of its operation.
What were the highlights of WGEEP panel report?
In view of the environmental sensitivity and ecological significance of the Western Ghats region and the complex interstate nature of its geography, as well as possible impacts of climate change on this region, the Ministry of Environment & Forests Government of India constituted in 2010, a Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) headed by Madhav Gadgil from IISC Bangalore. The Panel was asked to perform the following functions:
- To assess the current status of ecology of the Western Ghats region.
- To demarcate areas within the Western Ghats Region which need to be notified as ecologically sensitive and to recommend for notification of such areas as ecologically sensitive zones under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
- In doing so, the Panel shall review the existing reports such as the Mohan Ram Committee Report, Hon’ble Supreme Court’s decisions, recommendations of the National Board for Wildlife and consult all concerned State Governments.
- To make recommendations for the conservation, protection and rejuvenation of the Western Ghats Region.
- To suggest measures for effective implementation for declaring specific areas in the Western Ghats Region as eco-sensitive zones under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
Major Recommendations of WGEEP panel report:
- Develop and conserve thoughtfully: Development plans should not be cast in a rigid framework, but ought to be tailored to prevalent locality and time specific conditions with full participation of local communities; a process that has been termed adaptive co-management.
- Ecologically Sensitive Zones: Following the Pranob Sen committee’s criteria, WGEEP proposes that the entire Western Ghats region be declared as an Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA). Within this Western Ghats ESA, WGEEP proposes to assign different regions, other than those covered by Wildlife Sanctuaries or National Parks to one of the following three zones; Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1 (ESZ1), Ecologically Sensitive Zone 2 (ESZ2), and Ecologically Sensitive Zone 3 (ESZ3).
- Community Participation: Ecological sensitivity is not merely a scientific, but very much a human concern. In particular, a great deal of locality specific understanding of what has been happening and what is desirable, is simply not part of any scientific databases and resides with local communities. Hence, set of regulations tailored to the needs of the locality should be put in place if the area were to be formally declared as being ecologically sensitive
- ESZ assignment: The 2,200 odd grids spanning the entire Western Ghats be assigned to (1) Protected Areas, namely, Wild Life Sanctuaries and National Parks, and (2) ESZ1 (3) ESZ2 and (4) ESZ3 on the basis of composite scores of ecological significance derived from the database generated by WGEEP. treat Western Ghats regions of each state separately, Assigning ESZ1, ESZ2 and ESZ3 status only to grids outside existing Protected Area
- Grass-roots involvement: It is inappropriate to depend exclusively on Government machinery for constitution and management of ESZs. Instead, WGEEP suggests that the final demarcation of the Zones (including those surrounding PAs, as also in context of the UNESCO Heritage Site proposal), and fine tuning of regulatory, as well as promotional regime, must be based on extensive inputs from local communities and local bodies, namely, Gram Panchayats, Taluk Panchayats, Zill Parishats, and Nagar Palikas, under the overall supervision of the Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA), State level Ecology Authorities and the District Ecology Committees.
- Western Ghats Ecology Authority: WGEA should be a statutory authority appointed by the Ministry of Environment and Forest, GOI under Environment (Protection) Act 1986 to focus on promoting transparency, openness and participation in every way for development and sustainability of these areas.
- On Mining and other issues: An indefinite moratorium on new environmental clearances for mining in Ecologically Sensitive Zones 1 and 2, phasing out of mining from ESZ1 by 2015, Continuation of existing mining in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 2 under strict regulation with an effective system of social audit, No new red and orange category industries, which would include coal based power plants, should be permitted to be established in Ecologically Sensitive Zones 1 and 2.
39 Serial sites of Western Ghats in recently updated World Heritage Sites list
The Western Ghats (Sahayadri in Hindi) is recognised as one of the world’s eight “hottest hotspots” of biological diversity. The list declared in 2012 by the United Nations contains total 39 sites where Kerala leads with 20 sites being inscribed in the heritage list followed by Karnataka with ten, Tamil Nadu five and Maharashtra four. The list includes the individual sites listed in the following table.
Later the government appointed a High-Level Working Group led by K. Kasturirangan to study the report and provide suggestions.
K. Kasturirangan-led 10-member panel High-Level Working Group (HLWG) Presented its report on Western Ghats to MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forests)
K. Kasturirangan-led 10-member panel High-Level Working Group (HLWG) prepared a report on Western Ghats which suggests for ban on development activities in 60,000 sq km ecologically sensitive area spread over Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Objective: K.Kasturirangan panel was formed to study and advise Govt on the earlier report of ecologist Madhav Gadgil-led Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP).
- Around 37% of the total area defined as the boundary of the Western Ghats is ecologically sensitive.
- This area is of about 60,000 sq km and it spreads over the states of Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.
What were the key suggestions made by the K. Kasturirangan led HLWG?
- K.Kasturirangan panel has moved away from the suggestions of the Gadgil panel.
- The HLWG has suggested a prohibitive regimen on those activities which have the most interference and harmful impact on the environment.
- The report notes, “environmentally sound development cannot preclude livelihood and economic options for this region, the answer (to the question of how to manage and conserve the Ghats) will not lie in removing these economic options, but in providing better incentives to move them towards greener and more sustainable practices”.
- Promotion of Ecotourism along the ecologically-volatile Western Ghats to preserve the depleting natural wealth of the area
- Economically empower the local population
- Incentivize green growth in the Western Ghats i.e. supervising forests and bettering their productivity to ascertain inclusive growth and economical gains for local communities; integrating forest accounts into state and national economic assessments; initiating an ecosystem service fund to help villages around the forests; promoting sustainable agriculture and; encouraging ecotourism for local benefits.
- Establish a Decision Support and Monitoring Centre for Geospatial Analysis and Policy Support in the Western Ghats, which will supervise changes and propose state government on policy reform and all such reports must be in the public domain.
- High-resolution map, delimiting ecologically sensitive areas, down to each village settlement, must be put in the public domain so that people can be involved in taking decisions about environment.
- The HLWG report draws upon the basic framework suggested by WGEEP to use remote sensing technologies to demarcate the ecologically sensitive areas of the Western Ghats but with two key differences:-
First: it used satellite data, down to 24 m resolution, as against 9 km used by WGEEP.
This finer resolution was possible because of the collaboration with NRSC/ISRO, which used datasets to distinguish vegetation types over the landscape of the entire Western Ghats.
Second: it distinguishes between the cultural and the natural landscape of the region.
Using remote sensing technology, it has found that the cultural landscape â€“ which includes human settlements, agricultural fields and plantations – covers 58.44% of the region.
The natural landscape ranges over the remaining 41.56 %.
Thus, HLWG moved away from the suggestions of the Expert Panel, which had recommended a blanket approach consisting of guidelines for sector-wise activities, which would be permitted in the ecologically sensitive zones.
What were the key suggestions made by the Madhav Gadgil led WGEEP earlier?
Earlier, the WGEEP had suggested that:
- Entire Western Ghats be declared as an ecologically sensitive area.
- 3 levels of categorization for the regulatory measures for protection would be imposed.
- Establishment of the Western Ghats Ecology Authority for management of the Ghats.
- A blanket approach comprising of road map for sector-wise activities, which could be permitted in the ecologically sensitive zones.