Panaji: Environmentalist Madhav Gadgil, who headed a committee that authored a study on the Western Ghats, Friday criticised the decision of the union ministry of environment and forests to create “ecologically sensitive areas” in the area.
The exclusionist development of the biodiversity hotspot would be detrimental to people living there, Gadgil has said. Gadgil, a Padma Bhushan award winner, said gram sabhas in villages in the Western Ghats region should be empowered to decide what development is needed in their areas.
“The decision of the ministry is a most regrettable decision, violating science, democracy and environmental concerns, and it is to be hoped that the enlightened people of the Western Ghats tract will ensure that their will prevails,” Gadgil said in a written statement.
Gadgil has, in the recent past, opposed vehemently the findings of a high-level working group headed by eminent scientist K. Kasturirangan, which advocated that part of the Western Ghats be opened up for development and part for conservation.
The MoEF decision to carve Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA) in the Ghats is only the first step, before areas for development in the forested areas is notified, Gadgil claims, adding that the approach of the Kasturirangan committee was top-down and imperialist.
“A democratic process of taking recommendations to all the gram sabhas in the region in their own languages and basing the final decision on the basis of their feedback (should have been followed). This has been set aside and a decision has been imposed on the basis of a limited web-based consultation in the English language, that is totally inaccessible to the real stakeholders, the people at the grass roots,” Gadgil says in his statement.
The Western Ghats, close to India’s west coast, serve as a crucial landmass that captures the monsoon clouds which pass over the peninsular stretch, and spread over a vast part of the western coast, from southern Gujarat and Maharashtra to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu. The rains that these mountain ranges bring feed six states — Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
The Ghats, which also account for six major rivers which flow out of the mountains into the plains, are listed by Unesco as one of the top eight bio-diversity hotspots of the world.