THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: As Kerala gradually limps back from the disastrous impact of the second natural calamity in less than a year, an eight-year-old report which had specifically warned against indiscriminate quarrying and construction activities in Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs) is slowly re-emerging into the limelight. The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel had specifically warned against anti-environmental activities in Meppadi - where a major landslide wiped out an entire village - in its report submitted before the Centre in August 2011.
Meppadi was one of the 18 Ecologically Sensitive Localities (ESL) in Kerala identified by the panel. However, both the state and Central Governments were not keen on implementing the same and instead went ahead with measures aimed at diluting the proposals. In its report, the Madhav Gadgil-led panel had proposed to categorise Ecologically Sensitive Areas and Zones across the Western Ghats.
There were clear restrictions and regulations on construction activities in ESZ - I and ESZ - II regions. “We proposed that quarrying and red category industries should not be allowed in ESZ- I. Also in areas where quarrying was permitted, we suggested that quarries should be at least 100 metres away from human settlements. However, later on, the government reduced the distance to a mere 50 metres,” pointed out environmentalist V S Vijayan, member of WGEEP.
The Union Government later rejected the Gadgil report and appointed another panel led by Kasturirangan to come up with another report. The Gadgil panel had recommended that the entire Western Ghats be notified as ESAs. The Kasturirangan committee, however, reduced the extent of ESAs to 37 per cent of the Western Ghats.
The then state government led by Oommen Chandy too had opposed the WGEEP report and entrusted another panel led by Oommen V Oommen to come up with an independent report. At that time, senior Congress leader P T Thomas was one of the very few politicians who had favoured the implementation of the Gadgil report.
“In fact, the Gadgil report had recognised the environmental significance of the Western Ghats. However, back-to-back governments opposed it for trivial political reasons. How can an ecologically fragile area be termed as non-fragile with a mere Government Order (GO)? Strange political manoeuvres were made. The current Left Government is going ahead with those very moves. As part of this, an attempt was even made to regularise illegal quarrying. It seems ominous that the current spell of heavy rain began just a day after the government regularised unauthorised constructions up to 1,500 sq ft in Idukki,” said Thomas.
Ecologically Sensitive Localities as per WGEEP report
■ Paithal Mala
■ Brahmagiri - Tirunelli
■ Banasura Sagar - Kuttiyadi
■ Nilambur - Mepadi
■ Silent Valley - New Amarambalam
■ Peechi - Vazhani
■ Athirappilly - Vazhachal
■ Pooyamkutty - Munnar
■ Cardamom Hills
■ Agasthya Mala
■ ESAs surrounding Protected Areas
ESZ-I, II regions
As per the Gadgil-led panel report, Vythiri, Mananthavadi and Sultan Bathery come under ESZ - I. Similarly Perinthalmanna and Tirur taluks in Malappuram are among the taluks that come under ESZ - II.