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Insights into Editorial: A bottom-up approach to conservation


Insights into Editorial: A bottom-up approach to conservation


Context:

In 2018, many people thought that the floods and landslides in Kerala that caused huge financial losses and manifold human tragedies marked a once-in-a-century calamity.

But again, in 2019, a repeat of the shocking train of intense floods, landslides, financial losses and manifold human tragedies has not just left the same set of people stunned but also made them realise that it is unwise to continue business as usual, and that we must think afresh of the options before us.

 

Western Ghats: A biological treasure trove:

Western Ghats host India’s richest wilderness in 13 national parks and several sanctuaries. It is the home of many endangered plants and animals.

Recognised by UNESCO as one of the world’s eight most important biodiversity hotspots, these forested hills are also sourcing to numerous rivers, including the Godavari, Krishna and Cauvery.

The Western Ghats acts as a huge water tank supplying water to six states. Now there are many leakages and there is a water shortage as well as floods in some regions. All the rivers are running dry now. And wherever there is water, it is highly polluted.

The Western Ghats straddle the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, and southern Gujarat.

Just as the Himalayas preside over the biogeography of India, the Western Ghats to a large extent presides over the ecology and biogeography of Peninsular India.

The Western Ghats needs high attention in the sustainability aspect of whole India and especially South India.

Ministry of Environment and Forests of India set up in March 2010 an expert panel (Gadgil commission) to find a strategy for conserving these Ghats.

More like rolling hills than snow-covered mountains, the Western Ghats-stretching some 1,600km from the north of Mumbai to the southern tip of India-are a biodiversity hotspot that contains a large proportion of the country’s plant and animal species; many of which are only found here and nowhere else in the world.

 

Alternatives to avoid these types of tragedies: One set of possibilities is provided by the recommendations of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP):

In the year 2010, Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) was constituted by the Central Government, under the chairmanship of Madhav Gadgil.

WGEEP issued recommendations for the preservation of the fragile western peninsular region.

Highlights of the Report:

 

  • Recommended that the entire stretch of the Western Ghats should be declared as Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA).
  • It recommended the division of region into three zones – ESZ1, ESZ2, ESZ3 and gave a broad outline of certain restrictions for each zone.
  • The committee recommended the division of region into zones at the block/taluk level.
  • It recommended that no new polluting industries (red and orange) were to be permitted in ESZ1 and ESZ2 and gradual phasing out of such existing industries by 2016. Complete ban on mining in ESZ1 and regulation of mining in ESZ-2.
  • It was recommended that bottom to top approach be followed for conservation of Western Ghats.
  • Western Ghats Ecological Authority was proposed to be set up as a statutory body and given powers under the Environment protection Act 1986.

Madhav Gadgil has said the recent havoc in Kerala is a consequence of short-sighted policymaking, and warned that Goa may also be in the line of nature’s fury.

Kasturirangan Panel:

Following severe resistance to the implementation of Gadgil Committee report, Kasturirangan Panel was set up in 2012 to advise the government on Gadgil Committee Report.

Highlights of Kasturirangan Report:

  • Divide the Western Ghats into Natural Landscape and Cultural Landscape
  • Of the natural landscape, it picked out 37% as “biologically rich” and with “some measure of contiguity”. Restrictions were placed in this area.
  • It proposed the demarcation of ESZ be done at the village level.
  • Only red category (heavy polluting) industries were restricted.
  • Hydro power project would be given the green signal on a case to case basis, post assessment of its benefits and the possible damage it could cause.

 

The Ministry had accepted the Kasthurirangan report and issued the draft notifications on ecologically sensitive zones.

NGT action:

Now, the six Western Ghats States, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat have been restrained by the NGT from giving environmental clearance to activities that may adversely impact the eco-sensitive areas of the mountain ranges.

The panel directed that the extent of Eco-Sensitive Zones of Western Ghats, which was notified by the Central government earlier, should not be reduced, in view of the recent floods in Kerala.

The Tribunal Bench, in its order, noted that any alteration in the draft notification of zones may seriously affect the environment.

 

Conclusion:

India has realized the importance of involving local communities in forest protection and management, and has developed several policies and implemented large programmes such as Joint Forest Management programme.

India has multiple institutional approaches to forest protection and management.

However, in spite of its rich experience in forest management through traditional initiatives, JFM, social forestry and farm forestry, the genuine involvement and empowerment of local communities is limited.

The Western Ghats is a biological treasure trove that is endangered, and it needs to be “protected and regenerated, indeed celebrated for its enormous wealth of endemic species and natural beauty”.

 

Way Forward:

It is necessary to use this vast experience and existing policies to formulate and implement appropriate policies, including transfer of financial powers, and institutions to promote sustainable and participatory forestry under the emerging programmes and mechanisms.

We should assert that conservation prescriptions should not be merely regulatory, but include positive incentives such as conservation service charges.

We must hand over economic activities like quarrying to agencies like the Kudumbashree groups that are accountable to local communities.

We must take full advantage of powers and responsibilities conferred on citizens under provisions such as the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution, and the Biological Diversity Act, 2002.

We, the sovereign people, are the real rulers of India and must engage ourselves more actively in the governance of the country and lead it on to a path of people-friendly and nature-friendly development.