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Linking ecology to development

It is of interest that the report submitted by the Working Group headed by Planning Commission member K Kasturiranjan has recommended that only 37 per cent of the biodiversity rich Western Ghats be declared to be ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs). This committee has whittled down the recommendations of the earlier Gadgil committee, which was in support of declaring the entire Western Ghats as an ESA, which was unacceptable to the state governments of the region. The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) headed by ecologist Madhav Gadgil, which was set up to study the impact of climate change on the Western Ghats, had raised serious environmental concerns about the region. It had strongly condemned the government’s role primarily because of the thoughtlessly planned development projects, which made the development of the region inequitable and unsustainable. The expert panel also alleged that the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) conducted by the government was flawed and as a result, the environmental cost of various human interventions in the region was unacceptable.

The Kastuiranjan working group was constituted to advise the government on the recommendations of the Gadgil report, and attempts to make the earlier report implementable. Its report has adopted a nuanced approach by not approving of the most damaging activities but by enabling environmentally sound development that benefits local livelihoods and economies. The new report has noted that the answer did not lie in removing economic options but in providing incentives to enable people to move towards greener and more sustainable practices. The working group has used a more refined method that has enabled it to segregate cultural landscapes from natural ones which has enabled it to reduce the ESA, where no commercial activities would be allowed, to only to 60,000 square kilometers of the Western Ghats. It has laid down guidelines for the other regions as well, while diluting some of the harsher recommendations of the Gadgil committee, such as the creation of an over-arching authority for the region that would supersede the elected authorities. Hopefully, this new report will be acceptable to state governments, which will now be able to go ahead with some of the development projects.
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