The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has expressed concern after six states asked the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to whittle down the size of eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) under the ecologically fragile Western Ghats by 6,386.65 sq km.
“There is demand for more and more exclusion by those who claim the need for ‘development’ while need for ‘environment protection’ does not allow acceptance of such demands. This aspect needs to be finalised and has been pending consideration for the last about eight years,” an NGT bench headed by Tribunal chairman Adarsh Kumar Goel said in an order passed on Tuesday.
The Western Ghats cover six states — Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The K Kasturirangan Committee had in 2012 earmarked around 60,000 sq km as ESZ. In 2014, the then MoEF issued a draft notification declaring 56,825 sq km in the Western Ghats as ESZ.
Since then, it has issued three more draft notifications and has yet to take a final call on the classification.
Of the six states that have suggested reduction in ESZ, Maharashtra has sought the highest exemption at 2,570.88 sq km, followed by Kerala (1,337.24 sq km), Karnataka (1,571 sq km), Goa (754 sq km), Gujarat (129 sq km) and Tamil Nadu (24.53 sq km). Maharashtra has also suggested a separate area spread over 1,740 sq km to be included in ESZ.
The notification has been hanging fire for more than a decade, as many states and the Centre believe that once areas under the Ghats are classified as ESZ, development activities will be off-limits.
“That there is a concern of the States about prohibition of certain activities having implications on medical care, health care and education,” MoEFCC said in an affidavit to NGT.
The ministry said some states are concerned that two committee reports on delineation of the Western Ghats were based on the 2001 census.