MANGALURU: Environmentalists, who were engaged in a long-drawn struggle to keep human interference in the Western Ghats at a bare minimum, have received a shot in the arm.
A Central government order on 5 September, 2015, has asked the six states that share the Western Ghats to ban all 'destructive' activities and vindicated the Madhav Gadgil committee's report on the Ghats.
Karnataka, which has a lion's share of 20,668 sq km of the total 56,825 sq km of the Western Ghats, has been a hotbed of the tussle between ecologists and the champions of development since the 1960s when the road between Mangaluru and Bengaluru via Shiradi Ghat was laid.
Four years after the 'Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel' (WGEEP) report was prepared, the Western Ghats will be now under the tag ‘ecologically sensitive area’ (ESA) and the states should accordingly modify their laws to stop mining, quarrying, building thermal projects and other human activities that includes manufacturing and the like.
The United Nations had intimated the Central government in 2011 that the Western Ghats were highly eco-sensitive and there were 39 spots that deserved to be labelled world heritage sites.
But the Karnataka government had rejected the proposal saying that the state had rights over 18 out of the total 39 spots and it was left to the government to bring them under world heritage sites.
The Western Ghats stretches into six states — Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
It hosts a large list of exceptional endemic species, the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) lists 5,000 vascular plant species, 228 freshwater fish species, 179 amphibians, 157 reptiles, 508 birds and 139 mammal species, some of the very rare species include the Great Indian Hornbill, Lion-Tailed Macaque, Travancore Turtles and Nilgiri Martens.
“At this point of time when the debate over the Western Ghats has come to a logical conclusion, we should see that the people’s participation in strengthening the inclusiveness of the Western Ghats protection should be done without any hiccups.
“The Western Ghats have survived with just the Forest and Wildlife Act so far. The WGEEP and Kasturirangan Reports were based on the environmental acts. The ESA status should be able to earn more carbon credits to the country,” Ananth Hegade Ashisar, former chairperson of the Western Ghats Task Force (2008-13), told Express.
In five states along the Western Ghats, there are lakhs of tribal people — the Thodas of Nilgiris, Soligas of B R Hills, Malekudiyas of Belthangady, Halakki Vokkals of Uttara Kannada, the Sidhis of Kumta, Paniyas of Wayanad, Kattunayakans of Malabar and many others in Goa and Maharashtra. The government order poses a question on whether the indigenous people will be evicted from their habitat.
However, experts say that the 2001-2016 perspective plan for protection of biodiversity in the country, of which former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee was the chairman, states that, “The tribal communities were a part of the biodiversity and the state governments should not take them out of their natural surroundings, but empower them democratically and let the government facilities go to them…”