‘Report has permitted uncontrolled quarrying in most parts of ghats’
The Kasturirangan report has thrown open the ecologically sensitive areas of Western Ghats to mindless exploitation which would seriously hazard ecology, according to its critics.
According to member of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) V.S. Vijayan: the report has in a way permitted uncontrolled quarrying in most parts of the ghats regions of the State. Those protesting against the report in Kerala were indirectly demanding quarrying rights in 123 villages too, which were earmarked as ecologically sensitive areas.
While the WGEEP report wanted illegal mining and quarrying to be stopped immediately in the ghats, the Kasturirangan Committee permitted mining and quarrying in 63 per cent area. It was estimated that around 17,000 mines, including the reportedly illegal ones, were operating in the ghats region of the State, he said.
The Shah Commission, which inquired into the operation of mines in Goa, revealed that the State government had lost Rs. 35,000 crore to illegal mining. It was high time that a commission was appointed in Kerala too, to evaluate the functioning of mines in the State, said Dr. Vijayan who is engaged in the process of bringing out a comparative study on the two reports.
The Kasturirangan-led High-Level Working Group on Western Ghats had prepared a pro-mining report neglecting the livelihood options of thousands of farmers. The report had no mention on farmers and their sustainable livelihood options. It permitted construction of mammoth buildings in as many as 2 lakh sq ft in ecologically sensitive areas. There was no restriction on the number of such buildings too. However, the WGEEP had suggested building codes for constructions, he said.
If the panel report was accepted, even the protected areas of the ghats would be open for development. There are also provisions in the report for diverting forest land for non-forest activities. Of the 1, 64,280 sq km of the hill ranges, around 60,000 sq km would only come under the conservation regime. The area set apart for conservation includes National Parks, Sanctuaries, Reserve Forests and other protected areas, which were covered by some protection mechanism, he said.
When it comes to Kerala, only 15 per cent of the ghats area was eligible for conservation under the Kasturirangan report, leaving out large tracts of areas of high ecological sensitivity. The opening up of the sector would destroy the remaining water storing areas of the Ghats leading to acute water shortage in Kerala, he said.
According to an another ecologist, the high biodiversity areas of State like sacred groves would be left out of the conservation regime due to the faulty assessment of the ecological sensitiveness. The panel recommendations even went against the decentralisation of power, which was introduced in the country through a constitutional amendment. While the WGEEP suggested periodic review of the ecologically sensitive zones, the Kasturirangan report never gave room for any such interventions, he criticised.