The government has issued a fresh draft notification to demarcate eco-sensitive zones in the Western Ghats without altering the areas included in the proposed zones in an earlier draft notification.
A fresh draft notification had become necessary because the 545-day deadline specified in the previous draft notification for completion of the process of delinating the eco-sensitive zones was coming to an end.
Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said on Thursday that any alteration in the proposed eco-sensitive zones can only happen after all the six stakeholder state governments submit their recommendations.
The Western Ghats, a 1500-km biodiversity-rich geological formation near the western Indian coast that is also rich in minerals, is being sought to be protected from indiscriminate industrialisation. Two government appointed committees in recent past have made recommendations on how to prevent irreversible damage to the area. The first of these, called Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel headed by environmentalist Madhav Gadgil, recommended that no fresh industrial activity should be allowed in the region. The other one, a High Level Working Group headed by space scientist K Kasturirangan, reviewed the Gadgil report and suggested that 37 per cent of the region should be made ecologically sensitive.
Following their reports, the government had identified 4,156 villages in six states as ecologically sensitive. However, the move faced resistance from the local populations and state governments, which saw a threat to livelihood and development projects.
The Environment Ministry has asked all the six states — Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu — to physically verify the proposed demarcated areas and then submit specific objections. Only four states have done this so far.
On Thursday, Javadekar stressed that demarcation of eco-sensitive zones would not affect the lives of about 50 million people in these areas. “Their agriculture and plantation… normal businesses and other activities will also not get adversely affected,” he said. He added that the fresh notification had tried to address the apprehensions some people had about the move to demarcate eco-sensitive zones. “Some people were concerned that they would not even be able to make changes to their houses once this is done… they would be driven out of their native places. No such thing is going to happen. The fresh notification makes this emphatically clear,” he said.