Faced with its first major green hurdle in the form of Western Ghats, the Modi government has come out as a votary of environmental protection with a scientific view. More importantly, it has sent out a message that it won’t be swayed by pressure mounted by “eco-terrorists” who have a history of stalling economic development using the bogey of green concerns. The NDA government has shown that it will stick to a scientific strategy while identifying forests and ecologically sensitive zones when the ministry of environment and forests dumped the Gadgil-led Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel in favour of the High Level Working Group under Kasturirangan.
The Gadgil report had recommended the entire Western Ghats—all of 1,37,000 hectares—be termed an Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) under various categories. Accordingly construction and development activities are curbed in each zone. Kerala was at a receiving end and the state government as also lakhs of farmers in its hilly regions, had opposed it. At this juncture the Centre has come out in favour of the Kasturirangan report, which while proposing restrictions on highly interventionist activities, permits relatively less harmful initiatives. More scientific in its approach, the report was viewed as more practical, especially in terms of industrial concerns.
The MoEF was struggling to choose between the two reports with greens pitching for the Gadgil report, banking on support from the BJP in some states including Kerala. Hence, the MoEF decision should be viewed as a reflection on the Modi government’s pragmatic view on dealing with development issues. Instead of succumbing to pressure not only from eco-terrorists but from within the party, the government has adopted a scientific strategy in identifying eco-sensitive zones. Surely, states such as Kerala which had uploaded cadastral maps of 123 villages falling under ESA and had an in-principle nod from the UPA government, would have the Modi government to thank—for addressing their concerns in totality.