Insights into Editorial: Kerala floods: The prescriptions for the Western Ghats
Context: Madhav Gadgil Report:
The floods in Kerala have brought the focus back on an almost forgotten 2011 report on the Western Ghats that had made a set of recommendations for preserving the ecology and biodiversity of the fragile region along the Arabian Sea coast
Madhav Gadgil, lead author of the report has publicly argued that had the report’s suggestions been implemented by the concerned state governments, the scale of the disaster in Kerala would not have been as huge as it is.
Why was the Gadgil Committee set up?
In February 2010, then Environment Minister in Tamil Nadu organised mainly by those associated with Save the Western Ghats group. Speakers pointed to threats to the ecosystem from construction, mining, industries, real estate, and hydropower.
Environment Ministry set up the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel under Gadgil.
The panel was asked to make an assessment of the ecology and biodiversity of the Western Ghats and suggest measures to conserve, protect and rejuvenate the entire range that stretches to over 1500 km along the coast, with its footprints in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu.
What did the Gadgil Committee say?
- It defined the boundaries of the Western Ghats for the purposes of ecological management.
- It proposed that this entire area be designated as ecologically sensitive area (ESA).
- Within this area, smaller regions were to be identified as ecologically sensitive zones (ESZ) I, II or III based on their existing condition and nature of threat.
- It proposed to divide the area into about 2,200 grids, of which 75 per cent would fall under ESZ I or II or under already existing protected areas such as wildlife sanctuaries or natural parks.
- The committee proposed a Western Ghats Ecology Authority to regulate these activities in the area.
Major recommendations of Madhav Gadgil Committee:
- Ban on the cultivation of genetically modified in the entire area
- Plastic bags to be phased out in three years
- No new special economic zones or hill stations to be allowed
- Ban on conversion of public lands to private lands, and on diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes in ESZ I and II
- No new mining licences in ESZ I and II area
- No new dams, thermal power plants or large-scale wind power projects in ESZ I
- No new polluting industries in ESZ I and ESZ II areas
- No new railway lines or major roads in ESZ I and II areas
- Strict regulation of tourism
- Cumulative impact assessment for all new projects like dams, mines, tourism, housing
- Phase-out of all chemical pesticides within five to eight years in ESZ I and ESZ II
What was the need for the subsequent Kasturirangan Committee?
None of the six concerned states agreed with the recommendations of the Gadgil Committee, which submitted its report in August 2011.
In August 2012, then Environment Minister constituted a High-Level Working Group on Western Ghats under Kasturirangan to “examine” the Gadgil Committee report in a “holistic and multidisciplinary fashion in the light of responses received” from states, central ministries and others.
Its report revealed that of the nearly 1,750 responses it had examined, 81% were not in favour of the Gadgil recommendations. In particular, Kerala had objected to the proposed ban on sand mining and quarrying, restrictions on transport infrastructure and wind energy projects, embargos on hydroelectric projects, and inter-basin transfer of river waters, and also the complete ban on new polluting industries.
Recommendations of Kasturirangan Committee:
- A ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining
- No new thermal power projects, but hydro power projects allowed with restrictions
- A ban on new polluting industries
- Building and construction projects up to 20,000 sq m was to be allowed but townships were to be banned
- Forest diversion could be allowed with extra safeguards
So, what will be the Way Forward:
Kerala flood is a lesson worth of learning for India’s disaster management system. India, having more than 7500 km of coastline, should have a strong disaster early warning and management system.
Cooperation between the states can create an expert and integrated national structure, to manage any kind of natural disaster.
The Kerala disaster essentially has been caused by extreme rainfall. Since the 2013 Uttarakhand flooding, such extreme rainfall events have led to one disaster-like situation in India every year
Even in the Uttarakhand disaster, uncontrolled construction, large hydropower plants and deforestation were assessed to have aided the scale of destruction
There is now a need to learn lessons from past tragedies and increase the resilience of disaster-struck areas through sustainable and long-term development that would involve minimal intervention in natural processes. There was an urgent need for corrective action.
The Madhav Gadgil Report and The Sendai Framework for disaster risk reduction(2015-2030) must be consider while planning and implementing and completely involving adopting integrated and inclusive institutional measures.
To work towards preventing vulnerability to disaster, increase preparedness for response and recovery and strengthen resilience by inclusion of private sector and local population to prevent such mishaps in the future.