Tiger conservation guidelines, Western Ghats hog limelight

Tiger habitats

Fresh guidelines on tiger conservation, controversy over a proposal for speedy green clearances for mega projects and Western Ghats getting enlisted as a world heritage site were the highlights of Union Environment and Forest Ministry during 2012.

Controversy over the government's move to set up National Investment Board (NIB) erupted after Minister Jayanthi Natarajan wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opposing the proposal.

The Cabinet later approved a renamed and diluted version of the original proposal, creating a new Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI) to fast track clearances on infrastructure and manufacturing projects over Rs 1,000 crore.

Another highlight of the year was the ministry's fresh guidelines on tiger conservation allowing only "regulated low impact tourism" in the core and critical tiger habitat. The guidelines say that no new tourism infrastructure should be permitted in core and critical tiger habitats.

India's 1600-km-long Western Ghats mountain chain, which has forests older than the Himalaya mountains, got into the list of UNESCO's world heritage sites. The mountains, which start at the border of Gujarat and Maharashtra and run through the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala ending at Kanyakumari, were recognised as one of the world's eight "hottest hotspots" of biological diversity. The also year saw the Delhi High Court dismissing a petition by the ministry and upholding the Central Information Commission (CIC) order to make the report of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) public by posting it on the ministry's website.

In its petition, the ministry sought not to disclose the report. It argued that the publication of the report could affect economic interest of the states. The report was prepared by a panel chaired by eminent scientist Madhav Gadgil. The panel had submitted its report in August last year.

The report had termed Western Ghats as extremely ecologically sensitive region and favoured restricted mining and other development activities.

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