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Forest Department Not In Favour Of Ghats Authority
January 04, 2012
Forest Department Not In Favour Of Ghats Authority

Says three-tier regulation will only impede development


04 January 2012

K.S. Sudhi, KOCHI:

The Kerala Forest Department has come out against the formation of the Western Ghats Ecology Authority since it feels that the move will violate the “principles of federalism and decentralised decision-making” process. The proposal to declare the entire Western Ghats an eco-sensitive area, as suggested by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, also failed to find favour with the department.

The panel, headed by ecologist Madhav Gadgil, had suggested to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest that the authority should be formed for addressing various “environmental challenges of the Western Ghats.” It had also proposed a three-tier system with the authority as the apex body, State authorities and district-level ecology committees.

However, the Forest Department argues that multiple regulatory regimes will impede governance and development in general. Already, there are several instruments of environment conservation in India and the creation of the authority will just add to them. Instead, implementation and sensitisation of various regulations are needed, says the department.

The views of the department regarding the panel proposals were made known at a meeting convened in Thiruvananthapuram a few weeks ago.

In a densely populated State like Kerala, if 10 km of ecologically sensitive areas is delineated around the 23 protected areas, the government will be not be left with any land to take up development works, it says. In Kerala, forest constituted 27 per cent of the total area and the protected areas together occupied nearly 8 per cent of the land area.

The department has also opposed the panel's application of uniform criteria for selection of ecologically sensitive zone for different States. The proposal for bringing 75 per cent of the State's total area under Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1 (highly sensitive) and Zone 2 (sensitive) may impede the State's development. Most of the areas in Kerala are of high conservation value. If the criteria for selection zones are applied uniformly, most areas in Kerala will come under Zone 1, it says.

It suggests that some experts of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Group be inducted into the Forest Advisory Committee, which clears proposals under the Forest Conservation Act.

The Central government, invoking the provisions of the Environment Protection Act, can notify areas in which industries shall not be established, fix maximum allowable limits of pollutants for an area, and decide on the environmental compatibility of land use. It also proposed that all forests be kept out of the purview of ecologically sensitive zones.

The panel's suggestion that service charges be paid as incentives to encourage continued conservation-oriented action will only have limited application, the department says. Only a few owners of mangroves responded to an incentive project announced by the department last year. Moreover, such incentives will never match the benefits of alternative land use in the State, where land value is very high, it pointed out.