Western Ghats: Kerala panel for changes in Kasturirangan report

A panel appointed by the Kerala government to study the 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.

The panel, headed by Dr Oommen V Oommen, chairman of Kerala's Biodiversity Board, was asked to study the Madhav Gadgil and Kasturirangan reports on Western Ghats in the wake of widespread protest from the public.

The committee, which submitted its report to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy on Friday, said the Kerala (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile) Land Act 2003 has lost relevance and hence should be expunged in a manner that curbed the vesting of private land. It also said quarrying in forest areas should be banned immediately.

The panel held sittings in several places in the Western Ghats. It said the government should issue an order to immediately allay farmers' fears that the steps for conserving the Western Ghats will hamper cultivation of rubber, coffee and other cash crops.

The state-level panel said a field survey should be held in places that the Madhav Gadgil and Kasturirangan reports have identified as ESAs to demarcate forest land and human settlements. After examining the population density of these areas, human settlements should be exempted from the category of ESAs.

It also said farmers should not be stopped from rearing hybrid varieties of milking animals and suggested that the grace period given to shift to organic farming be extended from five years to 10 years.

The report said forest areas should be fenced to prevent the animals straying into farms.

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