A landslide in Maharashtra’s Raigad district last week killed 27 people and leveled an entire village, bringing Dr Madhav Gadgil’s 2011 report on Western Ghats conservation back into focus.
During a debate in the Maharashtra Assembly, state Congress president Nana Patole asked what happened to the Madhav Gadgil Committee report on environmentally sensitive areas in the Western Ghats. Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said that the Gadgil Committee report was released in 2012-13. It suggested mapping of villages and identification of core zone and buffer zone. I completed this mission in Maharashtra during my tenure as Chief Minister and submitted our report to the Centre. Two other states are yet to send comments. Only after this comes the overall plan can be prepared.
What does the report say?
In 2010, the then Union Environment Minister Jayaram Ramesh, environmental scientist Dr. The Western Ghats Environmental Expert Committee (WGEEP) was appointed under the chairmanship of Madhav Gadgil. The The commission submitted a 552-page report to the Center in August 2011.
- The report recommended that 64 per cent of the Western Ghats spread over six states be classified as eco-sensitive zones such as ESZ 1, ESZ 2 and ESZ 3.
- Almost all development activities like mining, construction of thermal power plants and dams should be stopped along with decommissioning of similar projects which have completed their shelf life in ESZ 1. It said that the Athirappily and Gundia hydropower project sites are not required to be given environmental clearance as they fall in this region.
- For Goa, the WGEEP recommends an indefinite moratorium on new environmental clearances for mining in ESZ 1 and 2, phasing out mining in ESZ 1 by 2016 and continuing existing mining in ESZ 2.
- The committee recommended that new polluting (red and orange categories) industries including coal-based power plants in ESZ 1 and 2 in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts should not be allowed and existing red and orange category industries should also be required to reduce coastal pollution. Under “severe environmental and social pressure”.
- No genetically modified crops in all zones, no use of plastic covers, no special economic zones, no new hill stations, no change of land use from agricultural to non-agricultural land, no diversion of rivers to protect the environment of the area, no conversion of public land to private land.
- The report suggested a bottom-up approach to governance of the environment instead of a top-down one, implying decentralization and greater powers for local authorities. It recommended the establishment of a Western Ghats Environment Authority under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, as a professional body to manage the region’s environment and ensure its sustainable development.
- Another key recommendation was to ban cultivation of sole commercial crops such as tea, coffee, cardamom, rubber, banana and pineapple, which have led to “deforestation, soil erosion, degradation of riverine ecosystems and toxic pollution of the environment”. “Policy change is urgently needed to curtail environmentally destructive practices and shift to more sustainable farming practices in the Western Ghats,” the report stated.
- The panel asked the Ministry of Environment and Forests to take decisive steps to involve citizens, including proactive and compassionate implementation of the Community Forest Resources provisions of the Forest Rights Act.
- It stated that new settlement patterns and development are causing hill cutting and physical changes in slope profile due to roads, terracing and construction.
What was the need for this report?
The Gadgil Commission was constituted by the Ministry of Environment in 2010 to study the impact of population pressure, climate change and development activities on the Western Ghats.
Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Western Ghats are a 1,600 km long mountain chain that stretches along the western coast of the country through six states: Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. These stages are home to high mountain forests that moderate the region’s tropical climate and are one of the best examples of the planet’s monsoon system. It is home to 325 globally threatened species of flora, fauna, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish. 60 percent of the range is in Karnataka.
What about its implementation?
Stakeholders opposed the implementation of the Gadgil Committee’s recommendations amid fears that it would hamper development and livelihoods. Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said, “The report relies only on satellite imagery to declare green areas as eco-sensitive”.
In August 2012, then Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan and former Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) chief Dr. K. A high-level working group on the Western Ghats was set up under Kasthurirangan, which found that 81% of the 1,750 responses examined were unfavorable to Gadgil.
Kerala has opposed bans on sand mining and quarrying, restrictions on transport infrastructure and wind energy projects, embargoes on hydropower projects, inter-river water transfers and a complete ban on new polluting industries.
Asked what made leaders like Prakash Javadekar, who had earlier supported his report, and the Sangh Parivar organizations in Kerala to remain silent later, the ecologist said, “They paved the way for the BJP to come to power at the Center before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, but then went completely silent.” Javadekar became Union Environment Minister in 2014.
Gadgil said that following the recommendations in his report, the extent of incidents in the state could be reduced when Kerala experienced floods and landslides in 2018 and in the three consecutive years thereafter. He had said Indian Express The report prepared by the Western Ghats Environmental Expert Committee (WGEEP) was a pro-nature and pro-people report based on accurate scientific information and feedback from the Central and State Governments, Zilla Parishads, Gram Panchayats and the people.
A panel headed by Kasthurirangan is preparing the report on behalf of the WGEEP
While the Gadgil panel recommended 64 percent area in the Western Ghats, Dr. K. In the report of the committee headed by Kasthurirangan, only 37 percent of the area has been notified as ecologically sensitive area.
It also divided the Western Ghats into cultural (human settlements) and natural (non-human settlements) regions. Cultural lands are proposed to be designated as Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs). Gadgil lamented at the time that the Kasthurirangan panel had “destroyed the essence of his committee’s report”.
It also included red, orange and green sections. The red list includes ban on mining, quarrying, thermal projects, certain construction and township projects. The orange category had activities with regulation and appropriate permissions, while the green category allowed all agricultural and horticultural activities and commercial activities.
In an affidavit submitted to the National Green Tribunal in 2014, the Ministry of Forests and Environment submitted that it was examining the recommendations of the committee headed by K Kasthurirangan and would not consider the Gadgil report for further action.
When the Karnataka government rejected the Kasthurirangan Committee report on the Western Ghats, Gadgil termed the report as ‘false’ and ‘unscientific’. “The Kasthurirangan report does not undermine our original report but distorts it. Taking milk and adding water to it is called dilution; If you take milk and add formaldehyde to it, that’s not dilution, but something completely different. The pro-nature WGEEP report was inaccessible to the powers that be. The government then set up the Kasthurirangan Committee, which produced a very wrong and unscientific report, which denied local communities a role in economic decisions and was a violation of our constitutional provisions, Gadgil told The Indian Express.
Then Karnataka Chief Minister Bommai said, “All the states had earlier opposed the Madhav Gadgil report. Then the Kasthurirangan report prepared without seeking the opinion of the locals, gram panchayats and taluk panchayats or ground survey. Declaring green areas as eco-sensitive areas relied solely on satellite images. The life of people in the Malanad region is intertwined with nature, the landscape is not forested but covered with coffee, areca, coconut and rubber plantations. Only a comprehensive survey will give a clear picture.
The Environment Ministry issued a draft notification in 2017 designating 56,285 sq km of Western Ghats as ESA against the 59,940 sq km recommended by the Kasthurirangan Committee. As part of the ESA, it has been reduced to 9,993.7 sq km in Kerala from the Kasthurirangan Committee recommendation of 13,108 sq km.
By 2022, the Center announced a high-powered committee set up by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to carry out physical landscaping and submit a detailed report within a year.