"Take the best from both Western Ghat panels"

Interviews

Renowned Ecologist R Sukumar, professor at Bangalore’s Indian Institute of Science, is an expert on Western Ghats, having observed the region for over 30 years. A member of the Madhav Gadgil panel on WG, Sukumar spoke to Prashant G N of Deccan Herald on the recommendations of both the Gadgil and Kasturirangan reports and how to overcome their extreme positions.

Excerpts:

The Gadgil and Kasturirangan reports represent two opposing perspectives on WGs. What is the way out?

An exclusive group consisting of a few members of both the Gadgil and Kasturirangan panels needs to be set up to glean the best aspects of both reports. It would not be right to trash either. Instead, the new group should bridge the two and find a middle ground. The group can also suggest a balance between conservation and development. While both reports demarcate specific regions as ecologically sensitive zones (ESZs), the striking difference between them lies in extent of area recommended to be classified as ESZs. The Gadgil panel recommends 60 per cent of WG be declared ecologically sensitive, while the Kasturirangan panel puts it at 37. This difference has to be bridged. 

The two reports used different methods to map ecologically sensitive zones. Has this influenced the area now considered ecologically sensitive?

While the Gadgil panel demarcated areas working on-the-ground and in consultation with locals and panchayat raj institutions, the Kasturirangan panel based it on satellite remote sensing.  The Gadgil panel has a layered approach to mapping ESZs. The Kasturirangan panel has taken a macro, holistic perspective, demarcating ESZs as single, uniform region as against a layered, graded approach. It is likely that the data you get through this may be different from what you get on the ground. I would suggest the new panel, if set up, to combine remote sensing with on-the-ground marking. 

How accurate is the mapping of ESZs by both panels? 

The issue I had with the Gadgil report was the use of taluk maps. You cannot draw ecological boundaries using taluk maps. It has to be done using cadastral maps which gather more data than conventional mapping. This should be undertaken even if we do remote sensing.

Can any development be undertaken at all in areas classified ecologically sensitive?

The Gadgil panel created zones 2 and 3 as buffers to zone 1 and stated that development work  friendly to the ghats be undertaken only in zone three in consultation with locals. The Kasturirangan panel demarcated development projects 10 km away on all sides of the 37 per cent of ESZ as buffer to the ESZ.  My thinking is zones 2&3 must have a regulatory cover and protection for development even if they are away from zone 1. The issue I foresee with the 10 km buffer is that even a small development in a small area can disturb the uniformity of the ecologically fragile ghats. The WG is one habitat, a continuum.  Ideally, I would want the entire ghats declared eco sensitive. But saying no development at all is not feasible nor practical. The anxiety is vested interests in development may intervene. There has to be a measure of regulation for every bit of land in the WG whatever the intensity of ecological sensitivity. A macro vision document has to be created on development instead of a piecemeal approach. 

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