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Updated: February 21, 2014 13:49 IST

Field Survey fails to ensure clarity on Ecologically Sensitive Areas

T. Nandakumar
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Reports by panchayat-level panels on Western Ghats lack spatial information; KSBB to plot the maps of panchayat panels.

The field reports submitted by panchayat-level committees, set up to verify the Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs) identified by the High Level Working Group (HLWG) on the Western Ghats led by K. Kasturirangan, may require a detailed and time-consuming exercise for scientific validation of the data.

Efforts are on to cobble together an expert team to plot the field survey maps submitted by the panchayat-level committees. The exercise would involve the use of GPS (Global Positioning System) and GIS (Geographic Information System) technology to plot the coordinates and verify the extent of the ESAs.

Officials said many of the maps submitted by the committees were not to scale and lacked spatial clarity.

According to the field reports from Kozhikode district, only 20 per cent of the land in the nine panchayats identified by the HLWG is ecologically sensitive.

“This data will require further validation, including field surveys,” an official said.

The Kasturirangan committee had relied on satellite data to demarcate 123 villages in Kerala as ecologically sensitive.

Mass protests

Following mass protests over the impact of the classification on plantations and human settlements, and the recommendations of a three-member expert panel chaired by Oommen V. Oommen, the government set up panchayat-level committees in the 123 villages to carry out a physical verification of the ESAs.

Officials said the authenticity of the field reports would have to be verified in detail, considering the immense public pressure on the panchayat-level committees to declassify settlements and agricultural holdings from the ESAs, and the absence of scientific inputs in preparing the maps.

“The maps would first have to be plotted and verified with forest maps,” said an official.

Prof. Oommen admitted that a detailed scientific validation of the maps would be needed to ascertain their authenticity.

Field visits

“It is a time-consuming process that may necessitate field visits but it is something that has to be done to establish the accuracy and sanctity of the data that the State government is expected to submit to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests,” he said. According to K.P. Thrivikramji, former head, department of geology, University of Kerala, the lack of spatial information was a major inadequacy in the field maps prepared by the panchayat-level committees.

Digitize village maps

“In the absence of spatial referencing, any field verification will be subject to disputes. Considering the critical importance of the maps in demarcating ESAs, the solution will be to digitize the village maps on a cadastral scale using the data from cartographic satellites such as Cartosat,” Dr. Thrivikramji said.

This, he said, would help to establish the extent of ESAs with precision and maintain the integrity of the data. Dr. Thrivikramji said the digitisation of the 123 village maps would take at least 400 days.

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