A committee on Western Ghats has paved the way for industrial development in a sustainable manner in one of the world’s finest bio-diversity hotspots and a formula for the environment ministry to lift a ban on commercial activity in the region.
A committee headed by Planning Commission member K Kasturirangan will submit the report to the environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan on Wednesday almost eight months after it was constituted to examine Madhav Gadgil report on Western Ghats.
The Gagdil committee had suggested that no new major industrial units should be allowed in the Western Ghats which has irked the environment ministry, the state governments and the industry lobby.
The Kerala government had even filed a petition with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) seeking lifting of the ban on commercial activities in Western Ghats saying it was hampering economic growth of the state.
“Needless to notice that this is a matter of some urgency and it is expected from the MoEF to take expeditious steps to finalise acceptance or otherwise of Gadgil Committee Report or any other Committee Report,” the NGT said in its order earlier this month.
The government, thereafter, asked the Kasturirangan committee to complete its work and submit a report by April 15. Sources said the committee after detailed deliberations with stakeholders in Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra has suggested a middle-path which allows industries to come up in Western Ghats but in an ecologically friendly manner.
“We believe that saying no to industries there would be grave injustice to around 5 crore people who live inside Western Ghats,” said a committee member, requesting anonymity. “But the industries will have to come up in a way that does not impact local biodiversity”.
Sources said that the committee has divided the entire topography of Western Ghats into different zones depending on its ecological importance. In not so ecologically sensitive areas, commercial activities with some restrictions would be allowed, the committee has said. But, it has opted for a strict no in ecologically sensitive areas such as those close to protected areas.
The committee has suggested a formula for considering the projects and has also listed restrictions for carrying out commercial activities. It has also given its view on a large number of hydro-electricity projects proposed in region by different state governments.
Once the report is officially submitted the environment ministry is expected to take a formal view in the next few days and inform about its course of action to the NGT. An advance copy of the report was given to ministry officials on Monday.
The Western Ghat region runs for about 1,600 kilometres in the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The Western Ghats hills cover around 160,000 sq kilometres and are called Great Escarpment of India.