The Ministry of Environment and Forests’ move to classify just 37 per cent of the Western Ghats as Ecologically Sensitive Area would lead to plundering of vast tracts of the area left out of the classification, said V.S. Vijayan, a leading ecologist.
The 37 per cent area includes reserve forests, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries which are already protected. No development works are permitted there. Excluding 63 per cent area of the Ghats by terming it cultural landscape would be disastrous, said Mr. Vijayan, a member of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP).
Once the government goes ahead with the proposal, massive construction and mining activities will become legitimate near the protected areas. Constructions up to 20,000 sq. metres will become possible in the ecologically sensitive areas. The government decision would throw open the remaining areas of the Ghats for mindless exploitation, he said.
Responding to a report in The Hindu on the government’s decision, Mr. Vijayan said the WGEEP was against organised lobbies and mafias. The report had a pro-people approach. The implementation of the WGEEP report would have adversely affected only the mining mafia and those looting the ecology of the region, he said.
A. Lata of River Research Centre, Chalakudy, which has been opposing the Athirapally hydel power project proposed by the Kerala State Electricity Board, said she was disappointed by the decision to leave the doors open for the power project. Though a decision on the power project has been put on hold for the time being, the State government could rework the project and submit it again for approval as suggested by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Ideally, the government should have rejected it, she said.
Going by media reports, it appeared that the government had considered only the report of the Kasturirangan panel and not the WGEEP report. The government could have taken into consideration suggestions of the two panels, Ms. Lata said.
T.V. Sajeev, a scientist of the Kerala Forest Research Institute, Peechi, who has extensively studied the two reports, said the unilateral imposition of Ecologically Sensitive Area classification by the government would lead to ecological disasters in areas left out of the list. When the government assigned the ecological sensitive tag to areas of its choice, it was exposing people of the remaining areas to the disastrous effects of unscientific and unsustainable environmental exploitation, he said.