Taking note of large scale industrialisation in the Western Ghats region, the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) has proposed that an independent watchdog inspect projects before final environment clearance is granted.
The panel chaired by ecologist Madhav Gadgil has recommended that the proposed Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA) should act as an "additional layer for screening projects" approved by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Union environment ministry. Clearance by the EAC is the final step before the ministry grants a nod to a project.
However, till the WGEA is constituted, the panel has recommended suspension of all ongoing mining and dam projects, which will have an impact on the water resources.
The panel's report was submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests in August and is yet to be made public.
The report has found that majority of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) are in the Western Ghats region that comprises six states such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Kerala, Gujarat and Karnataka, resulting in significant environmental stress. Till December 2010, 55% of notified SEZs, 60% operational ones and 50% formal and in-principal approvals for projects were located in the Western Ghat states.
According to the report, many ongoing or completed projects in the Western Ghats have violated environmental clearance and forest clearance or even no clearances at all.
"The WGEA should subject the projects to scrutiny for mandatory clearances and compliances, and augment the level of public consultation before deciding on whether to allow them to progress or not," read the report.
The panel also stated that the WGEA must declare origins of rivers as ecologically sensitive localities because these comprise catchment areas.
Decommissioning of dams that are under performing and silted beyond acceptable standards along with stricter laws for regulation of sand mining are the other recommendations of the panel.