The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the Centre and the Environment Ministry on a plea to quash a recommendation by High-Level Working Group treating the entire Western Ghats into patches for protection, thereby excluding around 72,000 square kilometres of area. (M Kaviya and ors versus Union of India ansors)
Notice was issued by a Bench comprising of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices Dinesh Maheswari and AS Bopanna in the plea has been filed by seven minors, four rights-based organizations and sixteen individuals from the six states where the Ghats are situated.
The petitioners accused the Central Government and the state Governments of the six states in which the Western Ghats is situated – Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu “to have completely failed in their duty to protect the Ghats, and have instead allowed its destruction over the years.“
The petitioners have urged the Court to implement the recommendations submitted by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) which intend to treat the entire western ghats as a whole.
Argued by Senior Advocate Raj Panjwani along with Advocate on record Shibani Ghosh, the petition states,
“despite its critical importance, the Ghats is not protected as a contiguous range.“
“Significant parts of the Western Ghats are open to wanton deforestation and destruction for mining, quarrying, industrial use, power generation etc.”
According to the petition, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) set up the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) in 2010 and the High-Level Working Group (HLWG) in 2012. It added that the Government had also recommended the inclusion of various Western Ghats sites in the World Living Heritage list.
According to the WGEEP report in 2011, identified an area of 1,29,037 sq. km. was found to be part of the Western Ghats. However, the HLWG recommended that only 59,940 sq. km. of the Western Ghats i.e. 37% of the total area of the Western Ghats of 1,64,280 sq. km. identified by the HLWG should be protected.
Even in the limited 37% of the Western Ghats area recommended by HLWG, the bulk of the area either falls under Protected Area or forest land.
The plea argues that such areas are thus already protected under the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 and the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980.
Further the plea states that after accepting the HLWG’s report ‘in principle’, the Central Government has only issued directions under Section 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 regulating certain activities first in an area of 59,940 sq. km till date.
The plea states,
“The area of 59,940 sq. km. was later reduced to 56,825 sq. km. by an amendment dated 03.12.2018 to the directions. Significantly, an area of 72, 212 sq. km. that had been identified by the WGEEP as part of the Western Ghats has been arbitrarily excluded from any form of legal protection from the Section 5 directions.”
The primary grievance of the petitioners is that the criteria adopted by HLWG for demarcation of Western Ghats area and Ecologically Sensitive Areas would lead to breaking up the Western Ghats into a series of patches.
“The viability of these stretches is therefore undermined in the long term. Protection cannot be afforded in patches as such protection is not sustainable in the long run.“
The plea demands that the WGEEP recommendations be implemented and further the government direction which exclude 72,212 sq km of land from protection should be quashed or stayed.