TRIVANDRUM - Kerala has heaved a sigh of relief with the new governmental panel on Western Ghats headed by eminent scientist and Planning Commission member K Kasturirangan liberalising the restrictions imposed by Madhav Gadgil committee on developmental activities in the Western Ghats.
The Kasthurirangan panel has rejected the Gadgil committee recommendation on decommissioning dams that are 35 to 40 years old. If the Gadgil recommendation were to be implemented, the state would have plunged into darkness since a major share of power consumed by the state comes from hydel sources.
The new panel has also rekindled hopes of building new hydro-electric projects. It has not recommended an outright rejection of the Athirpally hydroelectric project in Trichur district. The state government can go ahead with the project if the trade off against the loss of irreplaceable biodiversity is beneficial.
The Kasturirangan panel was set up to study the Gadgil committee report following unanimous opposition to its recommendations from Kerala and other states, where the Western Ghats fall. The latter had recommended turning three-fourth of the hills, including plantations, cultivated lands and habitations into a restricted development zone. The panel, on the other hand, has recommended restrictions only in 37 per cent of the total Western Ghats, spread across six states. It wants 60,000 sq km area to be turned into a no-go-area for commercial activities like mining, thermal plants, polluting industries and large housing plans.
The panel has suggested conservation of 90 per cent of the natural forests left in the Western Ghats under the provisions of ecologically sensitive area (ESA). The forest area falling within the ESA would cover 4,156 villages across the six states. Of this 123 villages are in Kerala. Majority of them are in Idukki district.
All projects in these villages will require prior-informed consent and no-objection from the village council. The panel has not recommended a ban on hydroelectric projects in the zone, but put a regime of stricter clearances for dams and other projects.
Environmentalists in the state were in favour of implementing the Gadgil committee recommendations as they believe that the mountain chain, which is recognised as one of the world’s eight “hottest hotspots” of biological diversity, has great influence over the weather pattern. They say ecology of the Western Ghats region will influence the rain pattern, rivers, availability of drinking water and the life system. Any stress on the ecology of the ghats region will have its impact in the lives of millions.