Friday 24 August 2018

Looking Back | Report of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel | Prof. Madhav Gadgil Panel Report.

Report of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, Part I.
Report of the Panel of Experts under the Chairmanship of Prof. Madhav Gadgil, submitted on 31 August 2011 to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF&CC), Government of India. 

India is remarkable for the deep and abiding concern demonstrated by its people and its successive Central, State and local Governments towards halting the rapid pace of degradation of the environment. Our country has been a pioneer in the area of integrating the needs of development with the desire to protect the environment, as reflected in the emphasis on sustainable development as a key feature of the development strategy of the nation since the Fourth Five Year Plan of the country in the early 1970s. The constitution of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel by the Ministry of Environment and Forests of the Government of India is yet another reflection of the seriousness with which our country views these significant challenges.
The Western Ghats are naturally an important focus of sustainable development efforts. The protector of the Indian peninsula, the mother of the Godavari, Krishna, Netravathi, Kaveri, Kunthi, Vaigai and a myriad other rivers, Kalidasa likens the Western Ghats to a charming maiden; Agastyamalai is her head, Annamalai and Nilgiri the breasts, her hips the broad ranges of Kanara and Goa, her legs the northern Sahyadris. Once the lady was adorned by a sari of rich green hues; today her mantle lies in shreds and tatters. It has been torn asunder by the greed of the elite and gnawed at by the poor, striving to eke out a subsistence. This is a great tragedy, for this hill range is the backbone of the ecology and economy of south India. Yet, on the positive side, the Western Ghats region has some of the highest levels of literacy in the country, and a high level of environmental awareness. Democratic institutions are well entrenched, and Kerala leads the country in capacity building and empowering of Panchayat Raj Institutions. Goa has recently concluded a very interesting exercise, Regional Plan 2021, of taking inputs from Gram Sabhas in deciding on land use policies. Evidently, the Western Ghats constitutes an appropriate region of the country to attempt to make the transition towards an inclusive, caring and environment-friendly mode of development.
It is therefore with tremendous enthusiasm that the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel has approached its appointed task. The Panel embarked upon the assignment through a multi- pronged strategy which included (i) compilation of all readily available and accessible information on the Western Ghats, (ii) development of a geospatial database on ecological sensitivity for the entire Western Ghats region which would provide a multi-criteria decision support system for demarcation of ecologically sensitive areas, and (iii) comprehensive consultations with principal stakeholders which included civil society groups, government officials, and peoples' representatives, ranging from members of Gram Panchayats and Zilla Parishads to MLAs and MPs.
It is noteworthy that in all these endeavors special effort was made to have wide-ranging discussions with complete transparency. All the information generated by the Panel including the geospatial database is publicity available through a dedicated website created for the Panel.
During the course of the last one and half years, Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel has had fourteen Panel meetings wherein the Panel deliberated at length on various issues related to the Western Ghats region. The detailed minutes of all these meetings are available on the Ministry's website. These meeting were interspersed with brainstorming sessions, public consultations and field visits. The central stream of thought was to develop a sound scientific methodology/basis for arriving at decisions, with these decisions deliberated upon by adopting a participatory approach.
The report embodies among other things (i) categorization of the Western Ghats into three zones of varied ecological sensitivity, based upon careful analysis done by WGEEP, (ii) broad sectoral guidelines for each of these zones, and (iii) a broad framework for establishment of the Western Ghats Ecology Authority.
In this endeavor, the Panel has utilized the expertise of a number of people and organizations to whom the panel expresses its gratitude. The Panel thanks the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, for giving it this unique opportunity to be part of a very significant initiative directed at conserving the natural heritage of the Western Ghats – a global biodiversity hotspot.
Prof. Madhav Gadgil | Chairman, Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel

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