Close on the heels of the Centre’s decision to keep habitations, plantations and agricultural areas in 123 villages in Kerala out of the purview of the eco-sensitive areas (ESAs) following a demand by the State government, the Karnataka government is planning to make a similar demand.
A copy of the office memorandum issued by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), dated March 4, available with The Hindu states that the Ministry wrote to the six States of the Western Ghats region on January 16 seeking comments on the report of the high-level working group led by K. Kasturirangan.
Subsequently, the Kerala government informed the Ministry on January 29 that it had set up an expert committee to study the impact of the recommendations of the working group and assess the ground realities. The government also constituted panchayat-level committees to look into the matter. The committees made an on-the-spot verification of the 123 villages falling within the ESA, as identified by the working group.
The committees said in their report that agricultural land, plantations and habitations in an area of 9,993.7 sq. km — 9,107 sq. km of forest area and 886.7 sq. km of non-forest area — may be kept out of the ESA. The Ministry said that “in respect of other States in the Western Ghats region, recommendations of the State governments shall be considered by the MoEF if they undertake the exercise of demarcating the ESAs by physical verification and submit the proposal to the Ministry”.
Karnataka Minister for Forests B. Ramanath Rai told The Hindu that the government would do whatever required in the interests of people. The Cabinet subcommittee had discussed the issue several times. Restrictions imposed on carrying out certain activities in forest areas apart, the government would ensure that livelihood of people was not be affected, Mr. Rai said. He indicated that the Karnataka government would take up an exercise similar to the one done by the Kerala government soon.
Of Karnataka’s total geographical area of 1,91,791 sq. km, Western Ghats taluks measure up to 44,448 sq. km, including 1,576 villages (identified as ESAs). The cultural landscape (habitation, plantations) area extends up to 22,919 sq. km while the natural landscape area measures up to 21,529 sq. km. Of the 21,529 sq. km of natural landscape area, 5,660 sq. km comprise reserve forests, protected areas and World Heritage Sites, C.A. Subbaiah, former president of the Codagu Planters Association, told The Hindu.
He countered the claims of the working group report that only an average of 37 per cent of the areas were identified as ESAs in Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. The Western Ghats taluk areas (ESAs) in Karnataka would come up to 46.5 per cent, he said. Mr. Subbaiah urged the State government to wake up from the “slumber” and put in place quick measures to undertake physical verification of the ESA for submitting a proposal to the Ministry.