Another panel to review projects in Western Ghats

Rights, needs and aspirations of tribals to be addressed

A year after an expert committee suggested a complete halt on large-scale developmental projects in biodiversity rich Western Ghats, the Centre has formed a second committee to find out strategies to allow “economic and social growth of the region in the most sustainable manner.”

The new committee under the chairmanship of K Kasturirangan, member (science) in the Planning Commission, will have to submit an action plan within two months drawing a road map on allowing economic and developmental activities in the Western Ghats.

It will suggest means to address the “rights, needs and development aspirations” of local and indigenous people “recognising the importance of equitable economic and social growth” balanced with sustainable development and environmental integrity, says an official order of the Union environment ministry issued last week.

Opposition by states on the recommendations of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Committee, headed by former Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), Bangalore, professor Madhav Gadgil, will also be taken into account by the new panel.

Most of the states were against the Gadgil panel's recommendations that proposed dividing the Western Ghats into several categories depending on the richness of biodiversity and allowing developmental projects in a graded fashion. An independent authority was suggested to monitor all such activities.

The Gadgil committee also suggested putting an end of the ongoing projects including Karnataka's Gundia and Kerala's Athirapilly hydro projects that ran into rough weathers due to strong opposition from environmentalists. The Central government, however, did not accept its recommendations following opposition by states.

The Kasturirangan committee has been asked to engage with six Ghat states and study the “constitutional implications of Centre-State relations with respect to conservation and sustainable development” before finalising its report. The impact of climate change will also be taken into account. The implication of UNESCO heritage site recognition of some parts of the Western Ghats will also have to be taken into account. As many as 39 sites on the Ghats have earned the distinction of being a UNESCO heritage site last month. 

The only non-governmental representative in the new 9-member committee is Sunita Narain, director general of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi. Three environment ministry officials and scientists from government research institutes are other members.

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