Bengaluru: A fresh draft notification, declaring Western Ghats as an eco-sensitive area (ESA) has met with opposition even before being issued by the Union environment ministry.
Karnataka which is one of the six states to be affected by the notification has refused to accept the notification citing its adverse impact on the state’s economy. All the affected states have been given 60 days time to respond to the draft.
Notably, an earlier draft notification issued in the year 2014 expired owing to a lack of consensus among states and the Centre. As per this draft, 56,825 sq km of the ghats, spread across these states had been identified as being Ecologically Sensitive Area
Interestingly this time though, it is gathered, that the remaining five states – Tamil Nadu, Goa, Maharashtra, Kerala and Gujarat – have only sought minor amendments in the ESA draft.
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Stating that Karnataka was not willing to accept the restrictions under the ESA notification, Karnataka forest minister, Shankar R, questioned the need for one more legislation, especially when the other existing legislations, including the Forest Conservation Act 1980, ensure the protection of forests.
The ESA, if implemented, will restrict all red category industries viz. heavily polluting industries like pesticides, petrochemicals, pulp and paper and cement in the Ghats which in turn will affect livelihoods, he argued.
The declaration of Western Ghats ESA has gained importance in light of the recent deluge witnessed in Kerala and Kodagu regions. Prominent ecologists have linked unprecedented rainfall, deforestation, mining, construction of dams and ecologically destructive activities to the exacerbation of floods.
Noting that the rich biodiversity in the Western Ghats needs to be conserved, a bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) earlier this month restrained the six states falling in the region from giving environmental clearance to activities which may adversely affect the eco-sensitive areas. It has directed the environment ministry to not reduce the area covered and issue the notification in to-to. The environment ministry, however, is issuing a draft notification to give states some more time to respond.
The new ESA notification is based on an assessment by a high-level working group headed by space scientist K Kasturirangan. Earlier in 2010, the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), headed by Madhav Gadgil recommended that 75% of Western Ghats be declared as ESA as opposed to 37% recommended by a parallel recommendation report by a committee headed by scientist K Kasturirangan.
The main point of contention between the two reports, however, is the freedom given to local bodies and residents of villages in the Western Ghats region. While the Gadgil committee had recommended that local bodies and villagers should be consulted before any developmental project can be taken up in an ESA, the Kasturirangan report asserted that local bodies cannot have a say in an economic decision.