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Fragile Western Ghats paying price of development

On Friday, dna had reported that Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa, Gujarat and Kerala have recommended that only 19,702.85 sqkm of eco-sensitive area (ESA) should be retained as against the 56,825 sqkm that was identified by the K Kasturirangan-led committee, opening up the rest for development and commercial activities. The state governments were unhappy with the Kasturirangan report and thus the central Government had allowed them to physically verify their ESAs.

Nikhil M Ghanekar

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Eco-sensitive zones to sink by 60% of Western Ghats?

If the states have their way, nearly 60% of the eco-sensitive, protected area of the Western Ghats, also known as water tower of peninsular India, will be thrown open for development and commercial projects. Five states located along the Western Ghats – Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa, Gujarat and Kerala – have recommended to retain only 20,000 sq km as eco-sensitive area (ESA) and release the rest 36,285 sq.km for development. Among the six Western Ghats states, Tamil Nadu is yet to submit its recommendations on ESA areas to the Centre.A Central government appointed committee led by K Kasturirangan had recommended 56,825 sq km as ESA, nearly three times more than what the states have stated. The Centre too had notified 56,825 sq.km area as ESA in a draft notification in September this year. Western Ghats is one of the eight biodiversity hotspots in the world and is also a UNESCO world heritage site.In their detailed reports on ESAs, the states have rejected most findings and recommendations of the Kasturirangan report, pushing for opening the Ghats to development and commercial activities. The state governments were unhappy with the Kasturirangan report and thus the Central government had allowed them to physically verify their ESAs.The Kasturirangan report had identified ESAs on the basis of natural landscape and cultural landscape. The natural landscape comprises of natural vegetation, forests, water bodies, hills and sacred groves while cultural landscape comprises of human dominated land use of settlements, agricultural land, horticulture and other plantations.For example, the report had identified 4,156 villages across six states as ESA, but the five state governments, in their recommendations, demarcated only 1,666 villages. Each state government has shot down prohibitions suggested in the Kasturirangan report on issues such as mining, township development and forest plantations.An analysis of the state reports by dna shows that broadly they have vouched for inclusion of only contiguous forests that are already notified along with non-forest private lands areas while excluding plantations, industrial zones and even non-cultivable agricultural land.Gujarat, however, is the only state to have increased its ESA area.The ground reality, the states’ reports claim, is that most villages across Ghats rejected the ESA tag, as they feared for loss of livelihood. The reports say that villagers were victims of misinformation campaigns. The villagers, reports said, termed the concept of ESAs as ‘government land grab’.Speaking on the state reports, veteran ecologist Madhav Gadgil, who headed the first Central panel to have given a road-map for conservation of the Ghats, said, “The process states have followed to demarcate ESAs is more important than the area they have retained. It is a flawed process from several angles and most crucially, there is little people’s participation.”He added, “So called ground-truthing exercises involved gathering only select few groups of influential locals across villages. Also, I got first-hand reports of misinformation campaigns that were spread against the concept of ESAs.”While analysing the state reports, dna found each state government has used different approaches for giving ESA tag to villages. As per the Kasturirangan report, villages having more than 20% natural landscape were to be counted as ecologically sensitive. Maharashtra, which has the second largest ESA area has reduced the number of ESA villages from 2,154 to 1,254, reducing the protected area of Ghats to 6,719.3 sq.km.In Maharashtra, the government excluded a total of 879 villages for being isolated, distant from the contiguous, elevated range of the Ghats and for having less than 20% natural landscape. ESA villages that are home to industrial zones have been excluded without studying their pollution load on water resources.In Karnataka, the government thought it more ‘practical’ and ‘rational’ to count only those villages with 50% or more natural landscape and that already fall in the buffer zone of sanctuaries and national parks as ESAs. Karnataka has whittled down ESA villages to 153 from 1,553, shrinking the protected area to 2,020.01 sq.km.Once Tamil Nadu submits its report, MoEF&CC will deliberate on recommendations of all states and map ESA villages using satellite maps. The ministry is likely to meet representatives and MPs from each state before it takes a final call on how much area of the Ghats should be kept as ecologically sensitive.dna contacted Union minister for environment, forests and climate change Prakash Javadekar, who said the matter of finalising Western Ghats’ ESA is under process.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>

Maharashtra to reduce Western Ghats ESA area?

Even as the deadline to submit final demarcations of eco-sensitive areas (ESA) in Western Ghats is only a fortnight away, four out of the six Western Ghats states are yet to present their reports to the Centre and according to reliable sources Maharashtra, like Kerala, may recommend reducing the ESA area in the state.In March 2014, the environment ministry had issued a draft notification, identifying 60,000 sq km of area in Ghats as ecologically sensitive and the ministry has to finalise the draft in 500 days, which is by September 9. Only Kerala and Goa have given their reports while the remaining four states – Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu – have yet to submit their ground assessment of the notification, that was based on recommendations of the K.Kasturirangan-led high-level working group. To carry out ground assessment, the state government had decided to form local committees comprising forest officers, revenue officials and gram panchayat members.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>While speaking on the issues, Maharashtra evironment minister Ramdas Kadam told dna that most Western Ghat districts have sent in their ground assessments. “District officials from Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg and Raigad have sent reports of the villages notified as ESAs. Gram Sabhas were organised for this purpose and in most cases, villages have affirmed the boundaries as far as forested areas are concerned. We will be able to send our report before September 9.”But, sources privy to developments said that like Kerala, even in Maharashtra, several villages are likely to omit farmlands and plantations, described as cultural landscapes by the Kasturirangan committee, from the ESA boundaries. This may to lead to reduction in Maharashtra’s ESA area. In Kerala, the government got the Centre to reduce 3100 sq.kms of ESA to de-link farmlands from them.In Maharashtra, the Kasturirangan report identified 17,340 sq km as an ESA, comprising 2159 villages. These are spread across Ahmednagar, Dhule, Nandurbar, Nashik, Pune, Sangli, Satara, Kolhapur, Raigad, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg and Thane districts. Politicians across party lines in the state have protested both the Madhav Gadgil report and K Kasturirangan report on the grounds that it will halt development.The Kasturirangan report had recommended prohibition on commercial mining and highly polluting industries. It has asked for phasing out of commercial mining from ESA’s by 2018 and has prohibited all red category industries that pollute heavily. As many as 85 different industrial activities fall in the red category. Biodiversity hotspotsThe Western Ghats ares a 1,600km long mountain range running all along the west coast of India. It covers the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat, approximately 1,40,000 sq km. These mountains are home to number of endemic plants and animal species.The Western Ghats consist of 5000 vascular plants. Of these, about 30% are endemic to the GhatsWestern Ghats also have over 450 species of birds 35% of them endemicThere exist 140 mammal species (around 20% endemic) and 260 reptile species (over 60% endemic)The range also has a number of fresh water fishes and a number of invertebratesThe Western Ghats are one of the 34 biodiversity hotspots (Bio geographic regions with sizeable biodiversity endangered by humans)

Western Ghats: Kerala govt seeks report from districts by July 25

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy on Tuesday directed district collectors to submit a comprehensive report identifying ecologically fragile lands in 119 villages by July 25 to prepare the state”s view on the Kasturirangan report on Western Ghats. The instruction in this regard was issued by Chandy to collectors of affected districts through video conferencing. He said the six-member committee, which was formed for this purpose, should complete the work by July 23-24.

Oommen Chandy

File Photo
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy on Tuesday directed district collectors to submit a comprehensive report identifying ecologically fragile lands in 119 villages by July 25 to prepare the state”s view on the Kasturirangan report on Western Ghats. The instruction in this regard was issued by Chandy to collectors of affected districts through video conferencing. He said the six-member committee, which was formed for this purpose, should complete the work by July 23-24.A permanent solution was needed to address the anxiety of the people over the Kasturirangan report, he said. Chandy said the land under Forest Department should be conserved and Forest land, agriculture areas, plantations and inhabited lands should be differentiated. The report was sought in the backdrop of the Commissions”s recommendation to declare 123 villages in the state as Ecologically Fragile Land (EFL). Four panchayats, which did not have any forest land, were excluded from this list. Cadastral Map of Ecologically fragile villages were prepared and submitted to the centre, he said, adding details related to the map were being prepared now.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The collectors promised Chandy that the survey in all districts would be completed within two days. The panchayat committees will submit report on July 25, which will be submitted to the Centre on July 30 or July 31.

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