5 Questions: NCP MP Vandana Chavan on demarcating an eco-sensitive zone in Western Ghats

NCP Rajya Sabha MP from Maharashtra, Vandana Chavan, speaks to Esha Roy after raising the issue of the urgent need to demarcate an eco-sensitive zone in the Western Ghats.

Why does the government need to prioritise declaring the Western Ghats an eco-sensitive zone?

The Western Ghats are a global biodiversity hotspot, a UNESCO World Heritage site and an important geological ecosystem that needs urgent conservation. Besides being home to over 325 globally-threatened species, containing 50 per cent of India’s endemic amphibians that are responsible for influencing the South-West monsoons, the Ghats have catchment areas draining 40 per cent of the country’s groundwater. If the Ghats are not conserved on priority, not just western India but the entire country will face an acute shortage of water.

Has any action been taken so far?

Nothing has been done by the government so far. The Gadgil Report, 2011, recommended declaring the entire Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive. Since this was a huge chunk of land traversing many states, it was problematic to implement it. The Kasturirangan Report, 2014, recommended a reduced area of 56,825 sq km. But no action has been taken on this report either. An NGT order on declaring the Ghats ecologically sensitive by December 2020 has also been ignored.

Why has this measure now become urgent?

We are seeing loss of forest cover and biodiversity at an alarming rate. Infrastructure projects in sensitive areas are underway. While I don’t dispute the fact that these are important, unless there is a curb on such development within the Ghats, we will lose this important area entirely.

What are the challenges?

There is a resistance to the Ghats being declared eco-sensitive by local populations as well. This is because once it is declared eco-sensitive, private landowners will not be able to develop their land. But despite the resistance, this needs to be done keeping in mind the larger interest.

What are your demands?

Some of us had met with former environment minister Prakash Javadekar and asked him to set up an informal committee of MPs from the Western Ghats to look into the matter. He set up the committee, which met several times. I would request the Environment Minister to reconstitute another such committee so that work on the issue can be taken up on priority.

 

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