On 19th October 2013, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests ( MoEF ) has made it public that it has decided to accept ‘in Principle’ the Dr. Kasturirangan led High Level Working Group ( HLWG ) Report on the Western Ghats completely setting aside the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel ( WGEEP ) report led by Prof Madhav Gadgilhttp://moef.nic.in/sites/
The section (3) of the OM leaves loopholes for further dilution of the regulatory regime under political and bureaucratic pressure once draft notification is published for public comments, ‘ the boundary of the ESA as also the regulatory regime will be fine tuned after the draft notification to effect is put in public domain for comments / views of the stakeholders including the state governments of the region’.
The MoEF has done a grave disservice to the cause of conservation which is its primary mandate and to the people living in the Western Ghats by choosing to completely set aside the WGEEP report. The process of choosing the HLWG has not been transparent or inclusive as claimed. The MoEF has not given any valid or legitimate reason as to why the HLWG report recommendations are a better option over the WGEEP report. It has not published the comments received on the HLWG report from various quarters on the web site or its views on the same.
Groups working for the conservation of the Western Ghats from all over India have jointly endorsed a letter to the Minister for Environment and Forests seeking reconsideration of its decision on accepting the HLWG report and to implement the framework put forward by the WGEEP instead. Important signatories include E.A.S. Sharma, Former Secretary to Government of India, Prof Ramaswamy Iyer, Former Secretary, MoWR, Prof M.K. Prasad, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, Prof Janakrajan MIDS, Chennai. The letter highlights why the HLWG report is not going to change the business as usual approach to conservation of one of the World’s ‘Hottest Hot Spots’. The MoEF lacks clarity if it has accepted the recommendations of the HLWG on controversial issues like the proposed Athirappilly and Gundia hydro electric projects and mining in Goa. Many of the important recommendations in WGEEP report accepted or considered positive by the ministries and states like those on GMOs, organic farming, need for review of environmental clearance, no interventions in first and second order stream have not been heeded to by the MoEF or included in the HLWG report though they claim the recommendations are based on that.