In the light of recent back to back floods in the state of Kerala, the author , the importance of ecological conservation of Western Ghats using a bottom up approach by empowering grass root institutions viz gram Panchayats. The recommendations of Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) and also the importance of involving the Panchayati raj institutions for the conservation of Western Ghats.
About Western Ghats:
Also Called ‘The Great Escarpment of India’, Western Ghats or Sahyadri run parallel to the west coast of Indian peninsula through six states.
It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a Biodiversity Hotspot due to the presence of a large number of endemic flora and fauna species along with several undiscovered species.
The range is heavily forested and is home to a large number of tribes such as Adars, Kotas, Badagas, Todas, Kurumbas, and Paniyas etc.
The Government of India has established many protected areas including 2 biosphere reserves, 13 National parks to restrict human access to protect specific endangered species.
They form the western edge of the Deccan tableland.
Run from the Tapi valley (21° N latitude) to a little north of Kannyakumari (11° N latitude) for a distance of 1,600 km.
Spread across states Gujarat, Maharastra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
COMMITTEES ON WESTERN GHATS
►GADGIL REPORT ►KASTURIRANGAN REPORT
Also known as Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP).
It identified the entire Ghats as an ESA (Eco Sensitive Area).
It recommended for putting in place a blanket ban on all activities that might harm the environment in any way like
pesticide use, GM crops, etc.
It asked for setting up a national level Western Ghats Ecology Authority.
The report was severely criticised for being biased against development
It marks that only 37 % area should be considered as ESA.
It recommended restrictions only for highly damaging activities including mining, quarrying, etc.
It asked for strengthening the existing framework of environmental clearances and setting up of a monitoring
This panel was tasked with finding a balanced solution so as to protect the environment and at the same time
address the aspirations for development.
Recommendations of WGEEP
It called for a model of conservation and development compatible with each other.
The panel had recommended to demarcate ecologically sensitive areas within the Western Ghats Region as ecologically sensitive zones under the Environment(Protection) Act, 1986.
In line with the National Forest Policy, the panel suggested to assign 60% of the total area of Western Ghats in Kerala, including the region housing wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, as a zone of highest ecological sensitivity, ‘ESZ1’.
In Kerala, rainfall increases rapidly with elevation, and high rainfall and steep slopes render localities vulnerable to landslides. Hence, areas prone to landslides would come under ESZ1.
The extent and quality of natural vegetation was the third indicator for classifying an area as ESZ1.
Landslides are under check in areas with intact natural vegetation because the roots bind the soil. Any disturbance to such vegetation would render any locality that has steep slopes and experiences high rainfall susceptible to landslides.
Such disturbances may include quarrying or mining, replacement of natural vegetation by new plantations, levelling of the land using heavy machinery, and construction of houses and roads. Therefore, the panel recommended that such activities be avoided in ESZ1 areas.
If these recommendations had been accepted, the extent and intensity of landslides being encountered today would have been much lower.
Role played by PRIs in Kerala
The Kerala High Court had ruled in favour of Plachimada Panchayat that cancelledCoca-Cola’s licence because the company polluted and depleted groundwater reserves, drying up wells and adversely impacting agriculture and livelihoods
The panchayat had invoked its constitutional rights, arguing that it had the duty to protect the well-being of its citizens and had the right to cancel — or refuse permission for — anything that affected its citizens adversely.
Further the court had observed that grass-root institutions have the authority to decide on the course of development in their own locality.
Kerala had also been at the forefront of the country’s Literacy Mission of the late 1980s; it pioneered Panchayat Level Resource Mapping and followed it up with the People’s Planning campaign that attempted to involve every panchayat in the preparation of a Panchayat Development Report.
Suggestion to Conserve
The panels recommendations should be applied as soon as possible. Implementation of these recommendations should have active involvement of Panchayati Raj institutions.
Further Kerala High Courts ruling that local bodies have the authority to decide on the course of development in their own localities should be made genuinely operational across the country.
Conservation prescriptions should not be merely regulatory, but include positive incentives such as conservation service charges.
We must hand over economic activities like quarrying to agencies like the Kudumbashree groups(Successful SHG Model of Kerala ) that are accountable to local communities.
MAJOR SECTIONS OF WESTERN GHATS
The northern section of the Ghats from Tapi valley to a little north of Goa is made of horizontal
sheets of Deccan lavas (Deccan Traps). The average height of this section of the Ghats is 1,200m above mean sea level, but some peaks attain more heights.
Kalasubai (1,646 m) near Igatpuri, Salher (1,567 m) about 90 km north of Nasik,Mahabaleshwar
(1,438 m) and Harishchandragarh (1,424 m) are important peaks.
Thalghat and Bhorghat are important passes which provide passage by road and rail between the Konkan Plains in the west and the Deccan Plateau in the east.
The Middle Sahyadri runs from 16°N latitude upto Nilgiri hills. This part is made of granites and
gneisses. This area is covered with dense forests. The western scarp is considerably dissected by headward erosion of the west flowing streams. The average height is 1200 m but many peaks exceed 1500m.
The Vavul Mala (2,339 m), the Kudremukh (1,892 m) and Pashpagiri (1,714 m) are important peaks. The Nilgiri Hills which join the Sahyadris near the tri-junction of Karnataka, Kerala and TN, rise abruptly to over 2,000 m. They mark the junction of the Western Ghats with Eastern Ghats. Doda Betta (2,637 m) and Makurti (2,554 m) are important peaks of this area.
The southern part of the Western Ghats is separated from the main Sahyadri range by Pal ghat
Gap [Palakkad Gap]. The high ranges terminate abruptly on either side of this gap. Pal ghat Gap is a rift valley.
This gap is used by a number of roads and railway lines to connect the plains of Tamil Nadu with
the coastal plain of Kerala. It is through this gap that moist-bearing clouds of the south-west
monsoon can penetrate some distance inland, bringing rain to Mysore region. South of the Palghat Gap there is an intricate system of steep and rugged slopes on both the eastern and western sides of the Ghats.
Anaimudi (2,695 m) is the highest peak in the whole of southern India. Three ranges radiate in different directions from Anaimudi. These ranges are the Anamalai (1800-2000 m) to the north, the Palani (900-1,200 m) to the north-east and the Cardamom Hills or the Ealaimalai to the south.