It has also recommended a ban on new licences for quarrying and sand mining.
The panel led by ecologist Madhav Gadgil has categorized the Western Ghats into three zones of varied ecological sensitivity-ESZ I, ESZ II and ESZ III-based on a careful analysis done by its members.
It has suggested that in ESZ I, all mining must be phased out by 2016. In Ratnagiri, ESZ I includes Devrukh and Chiplun talukas and in Sindhudurg, it includes Kankavli and Sawantwadi.
For all the zones, the WGEEP panel has recommended no new hill stations should be allowed and Special Economic Zones should not be permitted. Also public lands must not be converted to private lands.
The report was submitted to the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) in August last year. But the ministry had refused to put it in the public domain on the plea that it had sought comments on the report from various government departments of the six states through which the Western Ghats pass namely Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Recently, following a PIL in the Bombay High Court, MoEF was directed to submit the report to the court which it did.
Activist Sumaira Abdulali who filed the PIL said the fact that former Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh commissioned the report showed that the Western Ghats need to be protected. “After the report comes out, the government refuses to share it with stakeholders. It refused to provide a copy under the RTI Act. Then it made an appeal in court that it does not want to share it nor even the list of reasons for doing so. It shows how committed the government is in not including stakeholders in decision making,” she said.
Of the 200-odd talukas in Maharashtra, 32 talukas in the ten districts of Thane, Pune, Nashik, Raigad, Ratnagiri, Sindhdurga, Kolhapur, Satara, Ahmednagar and Nandurbar have been recommended for the status of ESZ I. Four have been assigned to ESZ II and 14 to ESZ III. The reason: in these 50 talukas, more than 50% is covered by the Western Ghats.
Six other talukas in the same ten districts where the area covered by the Western Ghats is less than 50% have been assigned to ESZ 1 and 23 to ESZ II. The report has also called for a cumulative impact analysis of various development activities in the plains and coastal tracts in these districts, Raigad and Goa, as they are under severe environmental and social stress. It has suggested the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, undertake the study.
The report has also suggested the setting up of a Western Ghats Environmental Authority.