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Critical Comparison b/w WGEEP Report & HLWG Report on Western Ghats
Critical Comparison between
Report of the Western Ghats
Ecology Expert Panel and Report
Of The High Level Working Group
On Western Ghats
• AJAY RAM
THUHINA J CHANDRAN
Western Ghats also known as Sahyadri.
UNESCO World Heritage Site. One among 8 hottest
hotspots of biodiversity
Home to thousands of plants and animals.
Location:- Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka,
Kerala, Tamil Nadu
Includes Sahyadri, Nilgiri and Anamalai mountain
ranges and also 34 peaks.
Gadgil & his Report
Madhav Gadgil, an eminent ecologist.
Assigned to prepare a report on Western Ghats.
Head of Western Ghats Ecological Expert Panel(WGEEP).
Commission submitted the report to the Government of
India on 31 August 2011.
“The Western Ghats is a biological treasure trove that is
endangered, and it needs to be protected and regenerated,
indeed celebrated for its enormous wealth of endemic
species and natural beauty”
Kasturirangan & his Report
Dr. Kasturi Rangan is the former ISRO Chairman.
An expert in Nuclear Sciences and one of scientific
advisers to the PM of India.
Assigned to analyse the WGEEP Report and to give
guidelines to the govt. to formulate an
implementable action plan.
The HLWG (High Level Working Group commonly
known as Kasturirangan Committee) Report.
• 2010 Government appointed
Western Ghats Ecology Expert
Panel(WGEEP) - Headed by
• Commission submitted the report to
the Government of India on 31
• They divided WG into 3 zones
based on ecological
sensitivity(ESZ1, ESZ2 , ESZ3).
• Gadgil report considers 1370000 sq.
km as ecologically sensitive area
• Establishment of Western Ghats Authority
• Water resource conservation plans
• No new power plants in the sensitive zones
• Organic agricultural practices
• Ban plastic within 3 years
• Roads and constructions only after study of
• To stop illegal mining in the western ghats
area immediately & not to give permissions
for new mine zones in Z1 &Z2
• Red and orange industries not to be allowed
in Z1 and Z2
• Dr. Kasturi Rangan is the former ISRO
• expert in Nuclear Sciences and one of
scientific advisers to the PM of India
• assigned to analyze the WGEEP Report
and to give guidelines to the govt. and to
formulate an implementable action plan.
• Removed cash crop plantations &
agricultural fields from ESZ
• Remarked 37% (60000sq km) as ESZ
Banned development of any township or
construction over 20000 sq. km in ESZ
Complete ban of mining and quarrying
banned red category industries (including
thermal power plants)
Hydroelectric projects can be initiated obeying
terms and conditions
Key differences between Gadgil and
The extend of area of ESZ
Gadgil Report Kasthurirangan Report
Entire WG should be
considered as ESZ
crops,agricultural lands and
settlements from ESZ
Created three categories of
protection regimes and
Made the distinction between
what it called cultural
landscape and natural
137,000 hectares should be
awarded the status of ESZ
60,000 hectares should be
awarded as ESZ
List of activities permissible in the protected regime
Gadgil Report Kasthurirangan Report
Ban pesticide use and
genetically modified crops
Impose restrictions on what it called
highly interventionist and
environmentally damaging activities in
Decommissioning of Hydro
All mining and red-category industry
(including thermal power), and
buildings over 20,000 square metres
would be completely banned.
Gradual shift from
agricultural land to natural
hydropower projects, the panel set
tough conditions to ensure adequate
flow in rivers and distance between
Concerns on governance frame work
The Gadgil panel had recommended a national-level authority,
with counterparts at the state and district levels.
The Kasturirangan panel argued for strengthening the existing
framework of environmental clearances and setting up of a
state-of-the-art monitoring agency.
Arguments in favour of WGEEP
Extend of area fixed as natural area by HLWG does not conform to the
National Forest Policy according to which the minimum forest cover
required to be maintained in hilly areas is 66%.
WGEEP considers the recommendations of Government bodies and
the Pronab Sen Committee specify several criteria on the basis of which
the entire Western Ghats qualifies as Ecologically Sensitive.
Pronab Sen Committee recommends to declare an area as ESA, is
presence of endemic species which would cover the entire geographical
extent of the Western Ghats.
WGEEP has divided ESA based on
Cultural, Geological, Historical, Climatic conditions especially
quantum of rainfall and the number of rainy days, risk of landslide,
and stakeholders' views
The ESA proposed by the HLWG is based mainly on the distribution of
flora. WGEEP has taken on board both flora and fauna, with details
such as their rarity, endemism, abundance.
Note: Fig.A: ESA proposed by the HLWG (yellow) is
superimposed on the ESZ 1 (red), ESZ 2 (grey) and ESZ
3 (green) proposed by WGEEP for Mudigere taluka in
ESA proposed by the HLWG does not reflect the landscape approach
for conservation and development. It does not serve the purpose of
WGEEP considered two main parameters
Even with this scientific approach, WGEEP concludes that further
discussion is required to fix the borders of Western Ghats .But for
HLWG,its decision is final!
Protection of the ecological integrity of the Western Ghats is a
must for the life of the people in six States who are depending
on its resources.
The resolution used by the WGEEP for coarse grid zoning is
30 meter and that by the HLWG is 24 meter which is not
It is our culture and tradition to preserve the sacred groves
which are present in the cultural land area. HLWG has not
even cared about the protection of these culturally important
remnant forest patches within the Cultural landscape.
Activities that could be undertaken in each are given separately in
WGEEP with controls and limitations
Freshwater biodiversity is even under greater threat than forest
biodiversity. WGEEP perspective considers this properly, including in
its specific consideration of riverine forests, whereas the HLWG just
HLWG has failed to understand that WGEEP recommendations are
tentative and that the final decision on demarcating the zones and, the
activities to be undertaken in each of them has to be taken by Grama
WGEEP recommends that even sites for construction should avoid
canals, wetlands, biodiversity pockets. HLWG does not mention these
at all, thereby appears to have attached no importance to these life
HLWG allows mining and quarrying in 63% of the Western Ghats and
the restrictions come only for 37% of the area.
WGEEP emphasises more on solar power which, certainly, is the most
environment – friendly alternative for power
WGEEP has suggested measures for water conservation and, how
decentralized the water distribution system should be.
WGEEP restricts roads and railway lines to areas where they are very
essential, whereas HLWG does not propose any restrictions.
Anybody could, according to HLWG, construct buildings up to but
below 20,000 m2 (2, 15,000 sq feet) inside the ESA and there are no
restrictions outside the ESA, apart from the existing guidelines
Argument in Favor of HLWG
This report suggested that 37% of land should come
under natural landscape need to be protected rest
should be open to the development.
Clearly WGEEP ignores the factors like livelihood
and potential economic options.
HLWG approach is more practical and will avoid
future unnecessary issues.
It’s a hand in hand approach considering Environmental
development and economic growth.
HLWG also emphasized on strong regulatory authority.
They also said, rather than avoiding economic option we
can reinforce to move them towards more greener and
This report was also concerned about already modified
and privately owned areas.
Gadgil Committee Recommendations:
Gadgil committee had eminent ecologists and their report too reflected that. The report was
labelled favorable to environment and environmentalists and not development.
The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) designated the entire hill range as an
Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA).
The panel, in its report, has classified the 142 taluks in the Western Ghats boundary into
Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ) 1, 2 and 3. ESZ-1 being of high priority, almost all
developmental activities (mining, thermal power plants etc) were restricted in it.
Gadgil report recommended that “no new dams based on large-scale storage be permitted in
Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1. Since both the Athirappilly of Kerala and Gundia of Karnataka
hydel project sites fall in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1, these projects should not be accorded
environmental clearance,” it said.
Gadgil Committee report specifies that the present system of governance of the environment
should be changed. It asked for bottom to top approach (right from Gram sabhas) rather than a
top to bottom approach. It also asked for decentralization and more powers to local
The commission recommended constitution of a Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA),
as a statutory authority under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, with the powers under
Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
Criticism of Gadgil Report
The major criticism faced by Gadgil Committee report was that it was more
environment-friendly and not in tune with the ground realities.
Recommendations were sited as impractical to implement.
Gadgil report has asked for complete eco-sensitive cover for Western Ghats
which hamper different states on energy and development fronts.
There was criticism against the constitution of a new body called WGEA. States
insist that protection can be given under existing laws.
Gadgil report doesn’t give solution for revenue losses due to implementation of
Gadgil report is against dams in Western Ghats, which is a crucial blow on the
ailing power sector. Considering the growing energy needs of India, critics argue
that this recommendation cannot be taken.
Kasturirangan committee Report
Instead of the total area of Western Ghats, only 37% (i.e. 60,000 sq. km.) of the
total area be brought under ESA under Kasturirangan report.
Complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining in ESA.
Distinguished between cultural (58% occupied in Western Ghats by it like human
settlements, agricultural fields and plantations) and natural landscape (90% of it
should come under ESA according to committee).
Current mining areas in the ESA should be phased out within the next five years,
or at the time of expiry of mining lease, whichever is earlier.
No thermal power be allowed and hydropower projects be allowed only after
Red industries i.e. which are highly polluting be strictly banned in these areas.
Kasturirangan report on Western Ghats has made several pro-farmer
recommendations, including the exclusion of inhabited regions and plantations
from the purview of ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs).
The Kasturirangan report had said 123 villages fall under the ESA purview.
CRITICISM OF THE KASTURIRANGAN RREPORT
The Kasturirangan panel used remote sensing and aerial survey methods for zonal
demarcation of land in Western Ghats. The usage of such techniques, without
examining the ground reality, has caused many errors in the report.
The power is vested with the bureaucrats and forest officials and not with gram sabhas.
Many fear that the farmers would get evicted if the Kasturirangan Committee report is
implemented. Under this report, the mining and quarrying lobbies is expected to
flourish. When these lobbies and tourism flourish, it will be disastrous for the
environment. There will be water shortage, there will be pollution. Finally, farmers will
have to quit the area. They will not be able to do farming there.
The use of “erroneous method” had caused inclusion of many villages under
Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA) though there were only rubber plantations and no
Kasturirangan report included ecologically non-sensitive areas under ESA, and left out
many ecologically sensitive areas!
There is a never-ending debate between environment and development; it’s tough to balance both
without compromising the other.
The same happened with both these reports. If Gadgil report laid too much importance to
environment, Kasturirangan report was biased towards development. Kasturi rangan report was
criticized by many as that it provided loopholes for mining, which if allowed would turn
detrimental for environment, in long term will affect development too. Kasturirangan report got
the tag as anti-environmental soon after its release. But this report was tagged anti-development
too by many who fear that their livelihood and interests will be affected.
Gadgil’s Western Ghats (Western Ghats landscape across 1,29,037 sq km.) is smaller
than that of Kasturirangan’s (Western Ghats landscape, according to Kasturirangan is
1,64,280 sq km). Gadgil report marked out 60 percent of the Western Ghats as the highest-priority
Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ -1). Kasturirangan report marks only 37 percent
area (but considers wider Western Ghat boundaries) as ESA. Gadgil’s report proposed to
declare this entire landscape as ESA, creating three ESZs within it. He prescribed that the
existing sanctuaries and ESZ-1 would together cover 60 percent of this landscape. The 25
percent lowest priority areas would be marked as ESZ-3 to allow all developmental activities
with precautions. The remaining 15 percent area would become ESZ-2. For example, while no
mining would be allowed within ESZ- 1, existing mines could continue in ESZ-2 with a
moratorium on new licences. In ESZ-3, new mines could come up. The Kasturirangan panel,
on the other hand, adopted the criteria followed by the Western Ghats Development
Programme of the Planning Commission and identified 188 talukas as its Western Ghats
landscape, which worked out to 1,64,280 sq km. He marked 37 percent of this
stretch as ESA where hazardous industries, thermal plants or mines
would not be allowed. In effect, the restriction level of Kasturirangan’s
ESA corresponds to that of Gadgil’s ESZ-1. Now, according to the Gadgil
report, the ESZ-1 areas add up to approximately 77,000 sq km (60 percent of 1,29,037 sq km).
Kasturirangan’s ESA, on the other hand, accounts for around 60,000 sq km (37 percent of
1,64,280 sq km). That is a reduction of 17,000 sq km in the top priority segment.
The Gadgil panel had recommended a national-level authority, with counterparts at the state and
district levels. The Kasturirangan panel argued for strengthening the existing framework of
environmental clearances and setting up of a state-of-the-art monitoring agency.
The main concern in the Gadgil report is water. Most of the river lies outside the 37% described
by the Kasturirangan report, leaving them unprotected from pollution and sand mining.
The Gadgil Committee report adversely affects the various mafia. When the Gadgil Committee
report was first made public, there were a lot of protests against it from the sand mining and
quarrying lobbies in Goa. Many mafias created fear among farmers in Kerala that the Gadgil
report is against them, and that they will lose livelihood if its recommendations are implemented.
Course of Action
Going with the recommendations of the high-level panel that was headed by Mr. Kasturirangan,
the Ministry has decided to declare the ESA over 37% of the Western Ghats under the
Environment Protection Act, 1986. With the central government deciding to implement the
Kasturirangan Committee report on the Western Ghats, there were several protests in Kerala. Even
those who opposed the Gadgil Committee report now want it in place of the Kasturirangan
Committee report. People now fear that due to illegal mining they would get evicted indirectly.
Going against the recommendation of the Environment Secretary, the Minister retained the criteria
to leave areas with high-density of population out of this regulated zone’s ambit. The high-level
panel had recommended that the hill tracts with high population densities be kept out of the ESA
ambit. The MoEF recently came out with the order, and according to directions under
Section 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, bars mining in ecologically fragile areas
(EFA not to be confused with ESA), setting up of thermal plants and restricts buildings to
less than 20,000 sq ft in 123 villages mentioned in the K. Kasturirangan report of the state.
COURSE OF ACTION
MoEF faced intense pressure from state governments. State governments argued that the adoption
of the Gadgil committee report would curb all development activities.
Ministry of Environment had enough reports (Gadgil and Kasturirangan; Ooman committee was
state-level), but still they didn’t take any action. The reports were neither available in the public
domain nor the opinion of states were asked. A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice
Swatanter Kumar imposed a fine of Rs 25,000 on the ministry for failing to file its final report on
recommendations of two panels set up to study environmental sensitivity and ecological
significance of theWestern Ghats, saying better standards were expected from it. [Oct1, 2013]
The Kasturirangan panel had submitted its report to the Ministry on April 15, 2013. It was put in
public domain and also disseminated to all stakeholders including the six Western Ghats states
including Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa, Kerala and Tamil Nadu for feedback and
Farmers worried that the implementation of the Gadgil report will lead to their eviction.
They fear the same of Kasturirangan report too. Though there are many who treat
Kasturirangan report as a more practical report, the truth is that Gadgil report was not anti-farmer.
Also people had misconceptions on Ecologically Fragile Lands (EFL) and
Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA). Both of them were different concepts under different
laws–the first under forest department and the latter under the district administration and
pollution control board.
Protests often are not due to love towards environment, but often because of fear of eviction
or loss of livelihood. Centre issued an office order in November 2013 directing immediate
implementation of five proposals in the Kasturirangan report. This was the immediate
provocation for the agitation. Later, the central government sought the opinion of the five
states in implementing the report. Dialogues were still on and the government had asked the
state governments to submit their views on the report.
On November 13, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) directed six states,
including Kerala, spanning the Western Ghats, to ban environment-damaging activities in villages
identified as ecologically-sensitive areas by the Kasturiangan Committee. These environment-damaging
activities include mining, quarrying, construction of thermal plants and red-category
(highly-polluting) industries and construction of buildings spread over more than 2,000 sq metre
and townships spanning more than 50 hectares.