The Karnataka government has been preparing to approach the apex court over uncertainties over the implementation of K Kasturirangan Committee report by the Union Government. The report declares nearly 1,500 places across the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive.
In their response, the Karnataka government said that they totally reject the Kasturirangan report. “The government has resolved to approach the Supreme Court and challenge the implementation of the report by the Union government if the National Green Tribunal directs them to do so,” read the reply.
While the Forest Minister Aravind Limbavali was unavailable for comment when contacted, the Environment and Ecology Minister C P Yogeshwar, who recently assumed the office, said that he is yet to take cognizance of the issue.
The state government has taken the decision as the National Green Tribunal is hearing the case filed by Goa Foundation to implement the Kasturirangan committee report. The foundation then moved the case to the Supreme Court that served notice to all the concerned governments to respond.
Meanwhile, environmentalists who have been striving to save the Western Ghats region deem this act as inviting disastrous consequences. Joseph Hoover, a prominent environmentalist, said, “The government is asking for trouble. Allowing a little leeway for the natives and farmers in the region is understandable but completely rejecting the report goes against the human interest.”
He added that they can only hope that the Supreme Court does not consider the request of impleading the report by the state government.
The development should not come at a cost of destroying the fragile ecology. The Kasturirangan report is already the diluted version of the Gadgil report. The complete rejection is unfair towards the people.”
The Western Ghats are spread across the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat are known for rich biodiversity.
The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), later known as the Gadgil Commission after ecologist and chairman Madhav Gadgil, had first submitted a report in 2011. This report warned the governments of potential natural disasters if the entire Western Ghats were not declared as Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA), further divided into Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ) 1, ESZ 2 and ESZ 3 based on the level of sensitivity, with ESZ-1 being most sensitive. It further suggested the formation of a Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA) as a legal authority under the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
However, the Gadgil Committee report was criticised for being ‘too environment friendly’ and having recommendations that were impractical to implement, such as banning growing of all single commercial crops like tea and coffee, decommissioning dams and thermal power stations, and not creating new hill stations. The report was in focus after the Kerala and Karnataka floods of 2019.
In 2013, another committee headed by Dr K Kasturirangan submitted a revised report on the region. Compared to the Gadgil Committee report, which recommended that around 70% of the Western Ghats be declared ESA, the Kasturirangan Committee report nearly halved this recommendation to cover 37% of the Western Ghats.
Headed by Dr K Kasturirangan, a former head of ISRO, the committee recommended that as much as 20,668 sq. km spread across 11 districts in the Western Ghats comprising 1,592 villages be declared as ESA. It asked for a blanket ban on mining, quarrying and other activities; and made several pro-farmer recommendations, including exempting inhabited regions and plantations from being classified as ecologically sensitive.
However, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat rejected this report. The Karnataka government, too, has accepted recommendations from neither the Gadgil nor the Kasturirangan Committee report.
The Union government, meanwhile, issued a draft notification in 2014 to implement the Kasturirangan report for protection of the recommended area. After this, two other notifications were drafted on the issue in 2015 and 2017 by the Union Government. The Karnataka government, however, refused to implement and filed their response rejecting the committee’s report, and said it will halt development in the region.
However, the National Green Tribunal, which was already presiding over a case, wanted the Centre to finalise the notification (based on the Kasturirangan report) by December 31, 2020.
However, Hoover says that “development should not come at a cost of destroying the fragile ecology.” He argues, “The Kasturirangan report is already the diluted version of the Gadgil report. The complete rejection is unfair towards the people.”