NEW DELHI: Environment experts say that the ministry has watered down Gadgil panel report that ensured the protection of fragile Western Ghats.
UNESCO has included certain identified parts of Western Ghats in the UNESCO World Natural Heritage List as it is home for rich endemic biodiversity.
In 2010, the UPA government began the process of declaring ESAs by constituting the Madhav Gadgil committee. The report was junked after protest from all states, especially Kerala, on account that it hampered development and large habitations.
Subsequently, a high-level working group under former ISRO chairman K Kasturirangan gave a report in 2013 recommending 37 per cent (60,000 hectares) of the Western Ghats as Ecologically Sensitive Areas. However, the states were still not satisfied. In places identified as ESAs, projects such as mining, quarrying, sand mining, thermal power plants are not allowed.
The Western Ghats is an important geological landform on the fringe of the west coast of India and it is the origin of Godavari, Krishna, Cauvery and a number of other rivers and extends over a distance of approximately 1,500 kilometres from Tapti river in the north to Kanyakumari in the south with an average elevation of more than 600 meters and traverses through six States namely, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Environmental activist and water expert, Himanshu Thakkar says the notification is as per Kasturirangan committee recommendations, which are hugely watered down and unscientific version of Gadgil committee recommendations.
"If we want to protect the fragile Western Ghats and people staying there, we need to seriously implement Gadgil committee recommendations. Even Bhutan constitution stipulates that at least 60 per cent of the area must be under forest all the time. This notification is for only 37 per cent of the area, mostly already under forest or protected areas. This is not helpful," said Thakkar.