As Kerala reels from another bout of heavy monsoons and floods, social media is flooded with messages and opinions from people across the country. One Tweet that caught our eye was from former Union Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, who pointed out that the non-implementation of the Gadgil Commission report could be the root cause of the floods.
Whenever there is a natural disaster in Kerala, the Madhav Gadgil’s Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report of 2011 is recalled. A decade later it remains unimplemented—despite devastating floods in 2018 and 2020.— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) October 17, 2021
So what is the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report?
Also known as the Gadgil Commission report, the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report was authored by ecologist Madhav Gadgil and published in 2011. It highlighted the ecological sensitivity of the Western Ghats and talked about the need to restrict activities in the region.
The report recommended that 64% of the Western Ghats area be declared as ecologically sensitive. It had labelled over 13,000 square kilometres, located across 123 villages in 12 of Kerala’s districts, as Ecologically Sensitive Areas (EAS). Most of these villages were in the Idukki district and the panel had suggested imposing strict curbs on mining and timber operations in the area.
However, the report was dismissed by all political parties, with some calling Gadgil an “eco-terrorist with a hidden agenda”.
Panel set up to examine the Gadgil report
Since the Gadgil report was rejected across political lines, the Union Environment Ministry appointed another panel in 2012. Under the leadership of space scientist K Kasturirangan, this new panel was asked to examine the Gadgil report.
The Kasturirangan committee reduced the area to be protected from 64% to 37%, and divided the Western Ghats into cultural lands (that had human settlements) and natural lands. The committee recommended declaring natural lands as EAS.
Madhav Gadgil responded to the Kasturirangan committee report saying it “destroyed the spirit of his panel’s report.” Surprisingly, no action was taken on either report as there was widespread protests from political parties, farmers, and the church.
Gadgil on 2018 floods
In the aftermath of the 2018 floods, Gadgil spoke up to say that irresponsible environment policy was to be blamed for the landslides and floods. He stated that quarrying was a major reason behind the landslides and mudslides. He called the tragedy a “man-made calamity”.
Speaking to the media earlier this week, Madhav Gadgil said, “Had Kerala implemented the report, we could have avoided many unfortunate incidents” and that “we should maintain a balance between development and ecology”.
Maybe it is time we took a second look at both the Gadgil report and the Kasturirangan committee report to see how we can put an end to what seems to have become a seasonal tragedy.