Kerala against creation of buffer zone in any populated area suggested in Western Ghats Report

Kerala Cabinet will oppose declaration of any populated area on the Western Ghats in the State as ecologically sensitive area. The Kerala government clarified that it was not opposed to protection of environment or buffer zones. However, it wanted the buffer zone to be brought down to zero kilometers, if the area is populated. Depending on the presence of population, the buffer zone should be zero to 12 km from the sensitive area.
Western Ghats Report:
The Western Ghats was declared as an ecological hotspot in 1988. A large number of plants, amphibians, birds, reptiles, mammals are endemic to this region. This area has a number of protected areas including 2 biosphere reserves, 14 national parks and several wild life sanctuaries. Besides, many regions are declared as reserve forests.
In recent times, due to anthropogenic pressures the intactness of the Western Ghats is getting fragmented day-by-day. Most of the ecosystem, which is outside protected area is now in danger. The habitat of plants and animals is also threatened due to large-scale deforestation and destruction of forests.
Initially, the report on Western Ghats was prepared by the committee led by ecologist Madhav Gadgil that had called for declaring the entire Western Ghats as an Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA).
Following this, a high-level working group headed by Planning Commission member K Kasturirangan was set up to analyze the suggestions made by the Gadgil panel. It stipulated the following key recommendations:

  • Only 37% of the biodiversity-rich Western Ghats — about 60,000 sq km of the total 1,64,000 sq km spread over the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu be notified as Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA).
  • Blanket ban on mining, quarrying, sand mining, setting up thermal power projects, townships and area development projects in the 60,000 sq km area, along with a cautious approach to setting up hydropower units.
  • It identified close to 60 % of the Western Ghats region as “cultural landscape”, dominated by human settlements, agriculture and plantations. It has not recommended any regulatory mechanism for this area.
  • The remaining 41% of the area has been classified as “natural landscape”, of which 37% is biologically rich, containing protected areas, world heritage sites, tiger and elephant corridors.
  • Declare 22 ESAs in Kerala with buffer zone of 12 km.
  • Mining moratorium in Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri districts of Maharashtra as they are ESAs.
  • Athirappilly hydropower project in Kerala: The proposed project must be revaluated in terms of generation of energy and whether the plant load factor makes it viable against the loss of local populations of some species. The Gadgil report had opposed the project.
  • 200 MW Gundya hydropower project in Karnataka: With the project being located in the ESA, the working group advised “extreme caution”, including re-assessment of the ecological flow in the downstream areas, local damage to all forests and how it can be mitigated. The Gadgil report had opposed the project.

What is a buffer zone in the context of environment protection?
A buffer zone is created to enhance the protection of areas under management for their biodiversity importance. The buffer zone of a protected area may be situated around the periphery of the region or may be a connecting zone within it which links two or more protected areas, therefore increasing their dynamics and conservation productivity. A buffer zone is intended to avert the effect of negative environmental or human influences, whether or not it embodies great natural or cultural value itself.
What is ESA?
Ecologically Sensitivity is the ability of a landscape to cope with environmental stresses – stresses like various human induced developments and their impacts; future impacts due to climate change; essentially the ecological resilience and how it might vary from landscape to landscape.
ESA for Western Ghats:
“An ecological sensitive area (ESA) is a bio-climatic unit (as demarcated by entire landscapes) in the Western Ghats wherein human impacts have locally caused irreversible changes in the structure of biological communities (as evident in number/ composition of species and their relative abundances) and their natural habitats”
What is the difference b/w ESAs and Protected Areas?
Protected areas in contrast to ESA’s: Extensive, standard, heavy and rigid restrictions, no scope for adaptive management, largely focused on flagship species and their habitats, leaves out small, unique habitats. ESA’s may have protected areas embedded in them, of various extents, could focus on small special habitats, flexible, adaptive regime of regulation for eg: example whole Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim.



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