Environment Ministry contradicts Moily’s statements

Contradicting the statements made by M. Veerappa Moily, the Union Environment and Forests Ministry informed the National Green Tribunal on Tuesday that orders banning fresh industrial and mining activities in the Western Ghats continued to stand.

The Centre had not withdrawn approval for the Kasturirangan panel report or subsequent orders implementing it, the Ministry said.

Mr. Moily, a day after he took over as Environment Minister, said the Kasturirangan report — on restricting and banning industrial projects and mining in the Western Ghats — would be implemented only after consultation with State Chief Ministers.

He was widely reported in the media as stating that he would write to the Chief Ministers asking for their views and then take a decision.

The petitioners, Goa Foundation, in an ongoing case before the tribunal, referred to the news reports through its lawyers Raj Panjwani and Rahul Chowdhury to demand a clarification from the government.

As it emerged at the tribunal hearing on Tuesday, the Ministry had not actually reversed or withdrawn the orders passed under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 for implementation of the Kasturirangan report. These orders passed when Jayanthi Natarajan was the Environment and Forests Minister.

The issue threatens to snowball into a controversy in Kerala, where the State government in January announced that all mining quarries in the Western Ghats zone and below the size of five hectares could operate without environmental clearance.

Sources in the Environment Ministry said these quarries could add up to nearly 1,000.

During Ms. Natarajan’s tenure, the Ministry accepted the Kasturirangan report and began the process of declaring 60,000 square kilometres of Western Ghats Ecologically Sensitive Areas, where industrial and mining activity is either restricted or banned. On November 13, the Ministry passed orders under the EPA restricting any future project of mining, heavily polluting industries, thermal power plants, buildings and construction projects above 20,000 square metres and townships above 50 hectare lands or a 1,50,000-square-metre built- up area.

The Ministry ordered that any project proposals in the designated Western Ghats area received after 17 April 2013 for environmental clearances at either State or Central government level would not be entertained. But when Mr. Moily took over he indicated a go-slow on the controversial subject.

In sharp contrast, the Environment Ministry counsel informed the NGT on Tuesday that the November 13 orders stood valid.

The court recorded it in its orders while asking the Kerala government to explain its decision to allow mining in the ghats without environmental clearance.

In its written order the tribunal recorded, “Learned counsel appearing for the Ministry of Environment and Forests submits that the order dated 13th November, 2013 and the directions issued therein continue to remain in force.”

The matter is now posted for February 13.

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