"You cannot declare 75 pc of Ghats as protected zone"

Interviews

A botanist by training, C R Babu is Professor Emeritus and former Pro-Vice Chancellor of Delhi University. He is member of a large number of expert committees on environment, set up by the government and the Supreme Court. Babu, one of the members of Kasturirangan committee, spoke to Deccan Herald's Kalyan Ray on what he thinks are the flaws with Gadgil committee recommendations.

Excerpts: 

Do you think Madhav Gadgil report was impractical and cannot be implemented?

 You cannot declare the 75 per cent of Western Ghats area as protected zone without taking into account the human population and livelihood option of people living in those ecologically sensitive zones. Gadgil report's basic tenet is 75 per cent of the WG should have forest cover and has to be protected, leaving only 25 per cent for people. Some of the criteria he used in delineating the three zones are overlapping leading to redundancy. 

What are the flaws with his methods?

For instance, his team used percentage of area covered by unique evergreen ecosystem as well as percentage of area covered by relatively undisturbed forests. Also he took into account riparian forest and vegetation.  He came out with a formula to classify the WG into three zones. The classification has incomplete back-up information; does not take into account the human component, which is a part of biodiversity as well as disturbance regime that denotes the degree of degradation of forests. The ESZ classification is subjective in nature, he changed the entire formula in an arbitrary way to ensure that 75 per cent of area must come under forest protection. That was an unscientific assessment and not an objective one.  Our method, on the other hand, was based on a different technique supported by large scale sampling. We found only 1/20th of grid needs conservation. 

How did you deal with the human factor?

Let’s take the example of coffee plantation in Kodagu. What conservation you would do there! If you develop forest there, the entire income of the area is gone. Where will the people go? WG is an area where cash crops are cultivated. Where will they go? He said all hydropower plants should be phased out. These power plants are running and a major source of energy and clean energy. The question comes when the whole area is developed as an eco-system zone, where the human beings will go. 

Did you look into the water availability and mining issues?

If the WG catchments areas are not protected, there will be no water in entire south India. The 37 per cent ecologically sensitive area is a contiguous band extending from Tapi river in Gujarat to Cape of Comorin (Kanyakumari.) If indiscriminate development is allowed, water resources would be depleted. Our committee was unanimous to decide no mining would be permitted in the Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA), even if for household purpose. In areas outside the ESA, developmental activities can be carried out with the regulatory regime as applicable to the rest of the country. 

Since states are opposing your report, is there any scope of further reducing that 37 per cent area?

Kerala and Maharashtra are opposing may be because wrong information was conveyed to them. They said we recommended stopping agriculture – it is not true. We have not recommended stopping construction of houses. We said in case any building more than 20,000 sq km, follow the norms and don't construct mansions for tourists. But the 37 per cent area can not be further reduced. 

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