Ecologist Gadgil takes former ISRO chief Kasturirangan to cleaners


Monday, May 20, 2013, | Agency: DNA

Attacks report on Western Ghats as favouring rich and powerful illegalities.

Well-known ecologist Madhav Gadgil has now joined many environmentalists in attacking former Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) head K Kasturirangan‘s high-level working group (HLWG) report on the eco-sensitive Western Ghats, saying it endorses “exploitation.” The Padma Bhushan awardee architect of Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel (WGEEP) report, Gadgil, has torn into the report saying it favours the “rich and powerful of the country and of the globalised world.”

The former ISRO chief had been roped in by the Ministry for Environment and Forests (a move which amazed many given his zero experience in the field of environment and forest management) to head the 10-member HLWG. This panel was asked to advise the Centre on how to conserve the Western Ghats.

Comparing his own report with that of the HLWG, Gadgil says in his letter, “Based on extensive discussions and field visits, we had advocated a major role for grass-roots level inputs for safeguarding the ecologically-sensitive Western Ghats. You have rejected this framework and advocate a partitioning amongst roughly 1/3rd of what you term natural landscapes, to be safeguarded by guns and guards, and 2/3rd of so-called cultural landscapes, to be thrown open to development, such as what has spawned the Rs 35,000 crore illegal mining scam of Goa,” and adds “This amounts to attempts to maintain oases of diversity in a desert of ecological devastation. Ecology teaches us that such fragmentation would lead, sooner, rather than later, to the desert overwhelming the oases.”

Gadgil also reminds Kasturirangan of how the WGEEP had underlined the importance of habitat continuity maintenance, and of an ecologically and socially friendly matrix to ensure long-term conservation of biodiversity-rich areas. He further says, “Freshwater biodiversity is far more threatened than forest biodiversity and lies largely in what you term cultural landscapes.  Freshwater biodiversity is also vital to livelihoods and nutrition of large sections of our people. That is why we had provided a detailed case study of Lote Chemical Industry complex in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, where pollution exceeding all legal limits has devastated fisheries so that 20,000 people have been rendered jobless, while only 11,000 have obtained industrial employment. Yet the Government wants to set up further polluting industries in the same area, and has therefore deliberately suppressed its own Zonal Atlas for Siting of Industries.”

Gadgil is most critical of the way Kasturirangan’s report “shockingly dismisses our constitutionally guaranteed democratic devolution of decision-making powers, remarking that local communities can have no role in economic decisions,” and says, “Not surprisingly, your report completely glosses over the fact reported by us that while the Government takes absolutely no action against illegal pollution of Lote, it had invoked police powers to suppress perfectly legitimate and peaceful protests against pollution on as many as 180 out of 600 days in 2007-09.”

Pointing out how “India’s cultural landscape harbours many valuable elements of biodiversity,” he cites the instance of lion-tailed macaque, a monkey species confined to Western Ghats which thrives in the tea gardens. “I live in Pune and scattered in my locality are a many banyan, peepal and gular trees; trees that belong to genus Ficus, celebrated in modern ecology as a keystone resource that sustains a wide variety of other species,” Gadgil bringing the personal to the realm of the eco-social. He says, “Through the night I hear peacocks call and can see them dancing from my terrace,” and underlines, “It is our people, rooted in India’s strong cultural traditions of respect for nature, who have venerated and protected the sacred groves, the Ficus trees, the monkeys and the peafowl,” while bemoaning efforts to snuff it out. “This reminds me of Francis Buchanan, an avowed agent of British imperialism, who wrote in 1801 that India’s sacred groves were merely a contrivance to prevent the East India Company from claiming its rightful property.”

Gadgil ends his letter on a rather scathing note. “It would appear that we are now more British than the British and are asserting that a nature-friendly approach in the cultural landscape is merely a contrivance to prevent the rich and powerful of the country and of the globalized world from taking over all lands and waters to exploit and pollute as they wish while pursuing lawless, jobless economic growth. It is astonishing that your report strongly endorses such an approach. Reality is indeed stranger than we can suppose!”

 

Panel for ban on mining in 37 % of Western Ghats #goodnews


PRISCILLA JEBARAJ, The Hindu

Identifying 37 per cent — or about 60,000 square km — of the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive, a high-level panel has recommended that “destructive” activities such as mining, thermal power, major construction, and some hydel power projects should not be allowed there.

However, the panel was silent about any restrictions in the remaining 96,000 square km area, thus creating the perception that it had diluted earlier recommendations that the entire Ghats should be declared as an eco-sensitive area.

The panel, headed by space scientist and Planning Commission member K. Kasturirangan, which submitted its report to Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan on Wednesday, was initially set up to review the more stringent recommendations of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) headed by ecologist Madhav Gadgil.

The Gadgil report had wanted the entire area of the Ghats to be graded into three levels of eco-sensitive zones, each of which would have different restrictions. It had faced uproar from State governments and industries which were alarmed by the curbs on development in almost 70 per cent of the biodiverse range of mountains spanning six States.

The new high-level panel has taken a different approach. Taking advantage of Dr. Kasturirangan’s connections with ISRO, it has used satellite data to produce a far more detailed database, with a resolution of 24 square metres as opposed to the 9 square km used by the Gadgil report. It then used remote sensing technology to distinguish between “natural landscapes” and “cultural landscapes” which include human settlements, fields and plantations.

It recommends “a prohibitory regime on those activities with maximum interventionist and destructive impact on the environment” on about 90 per cent of the area of “natural landscapes”. The four major restrictions in this area would be a total ban on fresh mining and a five-year phase-out of current mining, a ban on thermal power, all “red” category industries, all townships and any construction above 20,000 square metres. Hydel power projects will be allowed subject to certain conditions, in stark contrast to the Gadgil recommendations, and a small window of hope has been provided for the future of the controversial Athirapally hydel power project in Kerala. Also, the land-use change restrictions recommended by the WGEEP have been discarded.

Explaining that restraints cannot be imposed on areas where people already live and work, the report argues: “It is not wilderness area, but the habitat of its people, who share the landscape with biological diversity. It is not possible to plan for Western Ghats, only as a fenced-in zone, with no human influence.” Instead, the report called for incentivising green growth in the “cultural landscape” areas.

After submitting the report, Dr. Kasturirangan said the next step must be to focus on the biodiversity that is still left. “It is imperative that we protect, manage and regenerate the lands now remaining in the Western Ghats as biologically rich, diverse, natural landscapes. We have reached a threshold from which we cannot slip further,” he said.

WGEEP panel member and TERI executive director Ligia Noronha feels this is not the right approach. “The Western Ghats are not just about what is left. We should be protecting the whole of the Ghats. That is why we wanted a gradation of zones, a more nuanced approach to eco-sensitive zones. [The Kasturirangan panel] seems to have gone back to the mindset of carving out certain protected areas, rather than keeping the whole ecosystem in mind,” she says.

However, Kasturirangan panel member Sunita Narain, who also heads the Centre for Science and Environment, said that their report was actually “implementable..Senior Environment Ministry officials quietly agreed, expressing the hope that the “more sensible” recommendations would attract less opposition from the States.

Ms. Narain also pointed out that the Kasturirangan panel had left the ball firmly in the Central government’s court.

“We want to ensure effective protection right now, not in ten years’ time,” she said.

 

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