"Environment" includes water, air and land and the inter- relationship which exists among and between water, air and land, and human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organism and property.
India participated in the United Nations Conference on Human Environment held at Stockholm in 1972.
Post Bhopal gas tragedy the tragedy the Government of India enacted the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The legislation gave the Central government the power to demarcate Ecologically Sensitive Zones.
The WGEEP was constituted in March 2010 and it submitted its report in March 2011. The report suggested that all of the Western Ghats region should fall under the category of Ecologically Sensitive Zone and demarcated the region in three categories: ESZ1, ESZ2 and ESZ3. The panel prepared a Western Ghats Database (spatially-referenced database) and made it public through a website portal. Factors like biological attributes, biodiversity, habitat richness, productivity, hazard vulnerability, stakeholder valuation among others, were considered while deciding the sensitivity of any zone.
The WGEEP claims to have incorporated the voices of local people apart from the scientific considerations to bring about a much deeper understanding about the related issues.
The report suggests keeping 75% of the area under forests.
As per the report: “WGEEP advocates a graded or layered approach, with regulatory as well as promotional measures appropriately fine-tuned to local ecological and social contexts within the broad framework of
(1) Regions of highest sensitivity or Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1 (ESZ1),
(2) Regions of high sensitivity or ESZ2, and the
(3) Regions of moderate sensitivity or ESZ3.
While we advocate this fine-tuning through a participatory process going down to gram sabhas, it is appropriate to provide a broad set of guidelines as a starting point. WGEEP has attempted to arrive at such a set of broad guide-lines for the various sectors on the basis of extensive consultations with officials, experts, civil society groups and citizens at large.”
Summary of recommendations:
- The report disallows introduction of GM crops in the Western Ghats region.
- Areas comprising water courses, water bodies, special habitats, geological formations, biodiversity rich areas, and sacred groves will be no-go areas for settlement and development.
- SEZs not to be permitted.
- Public land not to be converted to private land.
- There to be a decentralized water resources management plans at Local Self Government level.
- Disallows Inter-basin diversions of rivers in the Western Ghats.
- The report suggests technology up-gradation and public awareness programme for water conservation.
- Promotion of organic agricultural practices.
- Calls for promotion of perennial crops.
- Phasing out of chemical pesticides. Chemical subsidies to be redeployed to animal husbandry maintenance.
- Suggests implementation of the Forest Rights Act in true spirit.
- Ban on dynamite use.
- Discourages monoculture plantation of exotic species. Encourages plantation of endemic species.
- Suggests introduction of “conservation service charges” for biodiversity management and maintenance of natural resources.
- Prohibits issuance of new mining licences and suggests that in ESZ3 new licences can be given only if the ores are not available in other areas of the country. Asks for ban on illegal mining and calls for social audit.
- Suggests to bring sand quarrying under strict regulations in ESZ3 and banning it altogether in ESZ1 and 2.
- Educate the energy consumer about the environmental and social impacts of energy production and the need for reducing ‚luxury‛ demand.
- Promote decentralized electricity, use of solar power.
- No new thermal power plants in ESZ1. No new railways and roads in ESZ 1 and 2 unless extremely essential.
- Promotion of minimal impact tourism under strict regulations.
- Cumulative impact assessment for all new projects such as dams, mines, tourism, and housing, that impact upon water resources should be conducted and permission given only if they fall within the carrying capacity.
- Focus should be on perfecting green technology.
- Educating the children and youth about the local environmental challenges.
- Build on the Western Ghats database of WGEEP to create an open, transparent, participatory system of environmental monitoring involving all citizens, in particular the student community.
The panel suggests creating a WGEA (an Apex multi-statal authority for regulation, management and planning of all activities impacting all categories of ecologically sensitive zones within the states of the Western Ghats namely Gujarat, Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and shall be constituted under the relevant provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986.):
The Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA) should be a statutory authority appointed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, enjoying powers under Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986. The State Western Ghats Ecology Authorities should interact closely with the State Biodiversity Boards and Pollution Control Boards, as well as State Planning Departments administering the Western Ghats Development Programmes funded through Five Year Plans by the Planning Commission.
WGEA should focus on promoting transparency, openness and participation in every way.
WGEA should lead a radical reform of the Environmental Impact Analysis and Clearance process.
WGEA should strive to make a transition from regulations and negative incentives to promote nature conservation-oriented activities to a system of use of positive incentives to encourage continued conservation-oriented action in the context of traditional practices such as sacred groves and to initiate other action in modern contexts.
The Authority shall be a statutory authority whose recommendations are ordinarily binding.