The 10 member High level committee for reviewing the Gadgil report on Western Ghats was formed under the chairmanship of Mr. Kasturirangan, a pioneer in the field of space research. The committee was formed in 2012 because of the inconvenience that the GoI faced in implementing the recommendations of the Gadgil panel.
The Government justified its stance for the formation of the second committee by saying that people belonging to the six states comprising the Western Ghats were dissatisfied to the impracticality persisting in the Gadgil panel report. The latter had made an exorbitant suggestion to declare almost all the Ghat as ESA (ecological sensitive Area) and suggested an umbrella ban all the 'environmental degrading practices'. This hampered the right to livelihood for most of the people.
Coming to the Kasturirangan report, it brought down the size of the ESA to 60,000 sq. Km. i.e. a third of the total Western Ghat area. Apart from that it has kept several prior suggestions of the Gadgil report as they were. Thus they have ultimately lost the support of all the important three stake holders- people, government, and Gadgil panel members.
We will discuss each case individually.
From the people's point of view, the Kasturirangan panel has not looked at the practical aspects of the people. It has banned almost every type of non-forest activity, medium or large sized constructions, hydro project and intensive farming as illegal and has suggested for an outright ban. As a consequence any infrastructure related to contour farming, using up of fertilizers, building up of hospitals, schools, small scale hydro project, roads, agriculture units, etc. will turn restrictive. Apart from that a blind covering of habitation under the pretext of ESA has brought several large habitations under its ambit and omitted several sparsely populated areas. If we look at the large climatic and geographic variances of the Western Ghats, these recommendations, just like the Gadgil panel's report are also impractical.
From the government point of view, outright ban of mining and other secondary infrastructural activities has made the recommendations unfeasible from the business point of view, just like the Gadgil panel's recommendations. It is a very well known fact that the mining mafias are quite intricately involved in the political happenings of the states. Heavy financial backing and prevalence of a very complicated social, economical and political scenario have made the recommendation quite difficult for the government to implement, especially in Goa and Karnataka (due to mining) and in Kerala (due to the over reliance of hydro power).
From the member of the Gadgil panel point of view, the recommendations of the Kasturirangan panel are quite arbitrary in nature. The former's members have gone to the extent of claiming the report as 'unconstitutional' and 'biased'. They have said that the suggestions if implemented will not only harm the ecology but, will also pave way for multiple judicial blockages. They have said that their own report was largely rejected by the people because the latter have not been able to get the actual picture and were swayed away by the mining mafias who misinterpreted their recommendations according to their clandestine motives.
Considering the timing and diplomacy with which the Kasturirangan panel was set up, it create a lot of questions on the actual intentions in forming it. When the GoI tried to block the RTI's for the Gadgil report and made the HLWG to 'study' the former's recommendation, several thinkers and environmentalists had raised doubts on the 'inclination' of the Kasturirangan panel from the very beginning.
It is quite disheartening to note that the later committee too repeated many mistakes that the former had done. And foremost among that was- not consulting the common people who will be affected the most. After its formation, the Kasturirangan committee conducted around 14 meetings within the span of 18 months, but the representation of the people was very less. Moreover, they relied more on the use of satellite and advanced technologies in demarcating sensitive areas which greatly neglected the social and economic compulsions of the people on the ground.
As a result, now, several state governments have started objecting to the implementation of the report. They have stated that the panel is too impractical and is made with a one-size-fits-all attitude which, if implemented, will bring out more issues than it will solve.
Arun Kumar Nayak