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Kasturirangan Panel Report on Western Ghats , Discuss

Environment is our source of sustenance. Mankind is dependent on environment for Food, Clothing, Raw Material, Economic Return, Aesthetic Necessity etc. Ecology studies the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings. The existence of human is hinged upon the Ecological Balance. Without Sustainable Environment and Ecological Equilibrium earth will no longer remain habitable for man. Biodiversity is the diversity of organisms exhibited in a region in terms of Flora, Fauna, and Microbial organisms. Biodiversity is very much required to be sustained for tourism, for maintaining ecological balance and food chain. Many measures have been taken for reserving the environment and biodiversity in India by means of Environment Protection Act 1986 which creates national park, sanctuaries and protected zones. Biosphere reserves have also been demarcated. In present age of rapid industrialisation, urbanisation, over utilisation of resource has resulted in excessive pollution, loss of biodiversity, global warming, sea level rising and other innumerable hazards. Continuous efforts are being taken by GOI to come up with policies to counter these.

Western Ghat is one of the hotspots in India covering six states of Gujrat, Maharashtra, Goa, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu. i.e. it has large number of endemic species who are under threat of extinction. Western Ghats, a UNESCO world heritage site, is rich in wildlife, forestry as well raw material. Its sloped topography provides ideal location for establishing dam. Closer location to ports also promotes export. All these reasons had led to excessive mining both legally and illegally. Concentrations of energy consuming industries have led to numerous thermal power plants. Road, Railways and infrastructural development has restricted protected areas and destroyed natural habitat of animals and also reduced forest cover in Western Ghats. Sacred groves are also not spared.

In view of this emergency situation Western Ghat Ecology Expert Committee(WGEEC) was formed under chairmanship of Mr.Gadgil.This committee recommended that whole Western Ghat to be demarcated as ecologically sensitive area(ESA) and to divide it in 3 zones with specified guideline for each zone.It also asked for setting up of an statutory body for better management of Western Ghat among other things.

IN view of stiff opposition various state Govt, a committee under Mr. Kasturirangan was formed to study the report of WGEEC.

Kasturirangan report came up with two terminologies-natural and cultural landscape.Committee recommended that new development projects like thermal power plant, mining, construction work in 'natural landscape' areas of approximately 60000sq km., will not be allowed. Current mining activities were asked to be phased out within next 5 yrs. Dam can be constructed only after cumulative study considering all aspects on environment and associative affects. But it is silent about whether this also applies to the areas termed as cultural landscape which includes human settlement. Thus this report did not endorse the decision of making the whole of Western Ghats as ESA. This report used satellite imagery data to prepare the detailed land datebase.24sq m resolution is undertaken by them with compared to the WGEEC report whose resolution was only 9km. The committee held view that it is of utmost importance to act immediately to preserve what is left of Western Ghats.

Although the report has been accepted by the GOI, It has drawn criticism from various quarters. The Gadgil committee has accused that pro –people nature of its report were neglected in Kasturirangan report terming it as undemocratic. It is also expressed apprehension that sacred grove of Kerala would come under cultural landscape and thus it can be destroyed in name of developmental work. Their approach of saving what is left of Western Ghat instead of complete restoration of this hotspot has also drawn flak from civil society and environmentalists. Excluding the local people from the process is also another drawback of the report according to experts. But it is also to be noted that developmental activities are indeed required in the difficult terrain of the region for upliftment of standard of life.

It is true that Gadgil report did not provide any specific methodology to compensate the states against mining royalty loss but it is also kept in mind that the report is extreme in certain aspects. Kasturirangan tried to balance the views. But more convergence is to be achieved if the motto is to save the Western Ghat in its true sense in its original charm. Western Ghats with its numerous endemic species and large forestry cover is a national heritage and in no cost it is acceptable for deterioration of its environment. Kasturirangan report accepted the urgency of the situation. We can only hope that all quarters rise to the occasion and do their utmost to save the Western Ghat.

Pallabi Chakraborty