The Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) Tuesday issued a draft notification earmarking 56,825 sq km of the Western Ghats as Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA), keeping it out of bounds for mining, quarrying and major construction and thermal projects. Giving in to demands from Kerala it, however, left out over 3,000 sq km from ESA demarcated by the Kasturirangan-led High Level Working Group.
The Working Group had identified approximately 37 per cent of Western Ghats, 59,940 sq km of natural landscape of the hills, as ecologically sensitive.
“Taking into account ESA demarcated by Kerala government for Kerala instead of Ecologically Sensitive Area recommended by High Level Working Group for the state, the total works out to 56,825 sq km,” the draft notification says.
As per the notification, the ESA in Kerala is spread over of 9,993.7 sq km, 9,107 sq km of forest area and 886.7 sq km of non-forest area.
The notification says that in exercise of powers conferred by section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (29 of 1986) and sub-rule (3) of rule 5 of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986, the Central Government notifies the identified area of 56,825 sq km across six states Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, as Western Ghats Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA).
The Election Commission had last week permitted the Centre to issue a draft notification. With stakeholder states particularly Kerala witnessing protests, the Veerappa Moily led MoEF had before the elections were announced said it would seek and allow changes in ESA boundaries based on recommendations of state governments. The Environment Ministry had added that it had accepted the Kerala government’s expert committee report on the issue and agreed with its recommendation to keep agricultural lands, plantations, orchards and habitations out of the ESA.
The BJP had opposed the decision of the MoEF to come out with the draft notification as the model code was in force and approached the EC. The EC permitted the Centre to issue the notification, adding the final notification could be issued only after elections.
K Kasturirangan report was submitted to MoEF in 2013 recommending that 37 per cent of Western Ghats be declared ecologically sensitive. The Ministry had at the time, conveyed in principle” acceptance of the report.