It will upset the precious ecology, water resources and livelihood options of people in the region, he says

The limited focus on the Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA) in the Western Ghats, as prescribed by the Ministry of Environment and Forest, will do little to halt the ongoing environmental degradation in the region, criticised eminent ecologist Madhav Gadgil.

“The decision will upset the precious ecology, water resources and livelihood options of people in the region. The manner in which the decision to demarcate merely 60,000 sq km of the Ghats area as ESAs was arrived at was undemocratic, regrettable and violated science, democracy and environmental concerns,” said Dr. Gadgil in a communication to The Hindu.

The ecologist who headed the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) also felt that the government decision reaffirmed “the process of “development by exclusion coupled to conservation by exclusion” in Western Ghats. He hoped that the “enlightened people of the Western Ghats tract will ensure that their will prevails, and that the bountiful nature as well as the health and livelihood of the residents of this global hotspot of Biodiversity will be protected.”

Incidentally, the High Level Working Group headed by the Planning Commission member K. Kasturirangan which looked into the recommendations of WGEEP had suggested that 37 per cent of the Ghats area should be declared as ESAs.

Dr. Gadgil said the WGEEP had recommended a “democratic process of taking its recommendations to Gram Sabhas in the region in regional languages and arriving at the final decision on the basis of their feedback. This has been set aside and a decision has been imposed on the basis of a limited web-based consultation in English, which is totally inaccessible to the people at the grassroots,” he said.

The WGEEP had “adopted a broader basis for eco-sensitivity as recommended by Sen Committee in 2000. This report was accepted by the government and the WGEEP was asked to take into account the report. The narrow focus of the Kasturirangan Committee on forested areas under government control is totally inadequate and inappropriate,” he said.

“The Western slopes of Western Ghats of Ratnagiri and Sindhudurgh districts are steep slopes that serve as origins of many west-flowing rivers and are clothed with rich forest cover mostly protected as sacred groves and private forest. These areas should have been properly protected with meaningful involvement of people as WGEEP had recommended. It is a tragedy that this is now slated to be liquidated,” he said.

The government decision that the Gram Sabhas will have a say and that the Forest Rights Act will be implemented only in the Eco Sensitive Zone, according to Mr. Gadgil, violated the spirit of democracy and the Constitution of India.

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