Opening the Western Ghats up for a free-for-all jamboree will have consequences

  • Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Sep 01, 2014 23:13 IST

No hindrance to growth, never mind the collateral damage: This seems to be the mantra of all Indian governments, state and central, since the 1990s.

Publicly, this stand, however, is carefully hidden behind the mask of sustainable development.

All governments swear by this popular phrase but no one believes in it.

This was evident once again in the Western Ghats case. Last week, in an affidavit filed by the ministry for environment and forests before the National Green Tribunal, the Centre said it would not implement the controversial Madhav Gadgil report on the Western Ghats, which was criticised for being more environment-friendly and not in tune with the ground realities, but would act according to the suggestions made by the K Kasturirangan panel, which was set up to study the Gadgil Committee report.

Like its predecessor, the Kasturirangan panel also put restrictions on mining and other polluting industries in the ecologically sensitive areas; however, it didn’t recommend an overarching central authority to review projects and development, among other differences.

But don’t think it is the pro-industry NDA which is up to some mischief here; the pro-poor UPA was also cut from the same cloth.

In fact, it was the UPA that in October 2013 issued a notification giving principle approval to implement the Kasturirangan committee report.

The only difference between the two is that while the UPA dragged its feet on the matter fearing political repercussions, the NDA confident after its morale-boosting election victory took a final call. The NDA, however, is planning to go ahead way more: It is planning to dilute two UPA-era environmental laws — the National Green Tribunal Act and the Forests Rights Act — which have held up key industrial projects in the past.

While being enthusiastic about growth and opening up pristine and ecologically sensitive areas for the greater common good is all very good, the truth is that nature has its own ways of responding to excessive pressure as it happened in Uttarakhand in 2013 and Malin (Maharashtra) recently.

Older than the Himalayas, the Ghats’ ecosystem plays a critical role in influencing the monsoon and weather patterns in the subcontinent.

So opening it up for a free-for-all jamboree without stringent restrictions will have consequences that could affect not only the six states that the Ghats cover but also the country.

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