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Topic : Eco-Sensitive Zones in the Western Ghats

GS-3 Mains  : Environment 

Revision Notes


The Western Ghats, a mountain range stretching along India’s west coast, are a treasure trove of biodiversity and ecological significance. Recognizing this importance, the central government has proposed designating specific areas within the Western Ghats as Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESAs). However, this move has sparked debate between environmental protection and developmental needs.

The Jewel of the Western Ghats

The Western Ghats boast a unique ecosystem, acting as a barrier between the west coast and the Deccan Plateau. These mountains are:

  • Internationally recognized for their immense biodiversity, geological formations, cultural heritage, and scenic beauty.
  • Home to several major rivers, including the Bhima, Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri.
  • The source of abundant rainfall, making the region fertile and ecologically rich.

What are Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESAs)?

The National Environment Policy (2006) defines ESAs as areas with exceptional environmental value that require special conservation efforts due to:

  • Landscape features
  • Wildlife and biodiversity
  • Historical and natural significance

Establishment and Regulations:

  • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) notifies and regulates ESAs under the Environment Protection Act (1986).
  • As per the National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016), ESAs typically surround protected areas like national parks and sanctuaries, extending up to 10 kilometers.

Purpose of Eco-Sensitive Zones:

  • Environmental Protection: ESAs safeguard the environment from degradation caused by human activities.
  • Buffer Zone for Protected Areas: They act as a buffer zone, absorbing environmental pressures and protecting the core ecological value of protected areas.
  • Transition Zone: ESAs create a gradual transition zone from areas with stricter protection to those with less stringent regulations.

The K. Kasturirangan Committee and its Recommendations:

In 2012, the MoEFCC established a working group led by K. Kasturirangan. This committee’s mandate was to suggest a comprehensive strategy for sustainable development and ecological conservation in the Western Ghats.

  • Identified Area: The Kasturirangan report (2013) designated an area of approximately 59,940 sq. km across six states (Karnataka, Gujarat, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Maharashtra) as ecologically sensitive.
  • Recommendations: The report recommended regulating or prohibiting development projects with a high potential to disrupt the Western Ghats’ ecosystems.

Concerns and Debate:

Several states have expressed concerns regarding the proposed ESAs:

  • Rationalization of ESAs: States have called for a more rational approach to defining ESA boundaries, arguing that the current proposal might be overly restrictive.
  • Livelihood Impact: Concerns exist that strict ESA regulations could negatively impact the livelihoods of local communities residing within these zones.
  • Hinderance to Development: States argue that the ESAs could hinder essential development activities in the region.
  • Relocation Fears: There are apprehensions that the ESA designation might lead to the displacement of villagers residing in the Western Ghats.

The Way Forward:

  • Sustainable Development: Ecologically sensitive regions can support sustainable development by preserving ecosystems that sustain livelihoods. This translates to benefits like water security, improved pollination, increased crop yields, and reduced human-wildlife conflict.
  • Considering State Concerns: The government needs to consider the concerns raised by states while upholding ecological protection principles. A uniform approach with flexibility for local contexts might be the answer.
  • Expert Committee Report: The expert committee is expected to submit its final report to the Environment Ministry by September 2024. This report will be crucial in shaping the final ESA framework for the Western Ghats.

Finding a sustainable solution that balances development needs with environmental protection is paramount. By working together, the government, states, local communities, and environmental experts can ensure the long-term well-being of the Western Ghats and its people.

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