‘Western Ghats report will stifle development’

State seeks modifications to strike a balance between development, environmental conservation

The Maharashtra government on Tuesday objected to certain recommendations of the Madhav Gadgil-led Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) and sought to strike a balance between environmental conservation and projects for development.

A high-level working group headed by space scientist and Planning Commission member K Kasturirangan has been consulting representatives of six states in the Western Ghats region, besides other stakeholders.

On Tuesday the team met Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, other ministers and top government officials to understand Maharashtra's stand. Government officials said the crux of their stand was development works should be permitted while ensuring preservation of the environment.

Three main points objections pertained to prohibition of power and irrigation projects in eco-sensitive zones. The government has argued that wind energy projects and even irrigation projects that will improve water availability should be allowed after due Environment Impact Assessment, said a senior government official.

The state government sought permission for irrigation projects if the area submerged is minimal and areas around wildlife sanctuaries and corridors are avoided.

The state government also opposed the proposed Western Ghat Ecology Authority, which will duplicate the existing system of taking the project nod from local authorities. The authority is modelled on the eco-sensitive committees of Matheran and Mahabaleshwar. However, the Gadgil report had criticized these committees, an official pointed out.

Importantly, the Maharashtra government has sought a reduction in eco-sensitive grid and calculation to be based on villages, rather than talukas. Incidentally, 35 talukas along Maharashtra coast-the highest number along the entire ghat-have been declared eco-sensitive by the Gadgil committee.

Officials said the Maharashtra government also sought permission to expand existing railway network or set up new railway tracks as it is the least polluting mass transport system. It has also asked for national highways to be permitted through eco-sensitive zones where no alternative is possible, especially while connecting to ports.

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