3,247.85 sq km of human settlements, farmland exempted

Following up on the draft notification issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests earlier this month, the State government has published a draft report redrawing the boundaries of the Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs) identified by the High Level Working Group (HLWG) on the conservation of the Western Ghats.

Prepared by the Kerala State Remote Sensing and Environment Centre (KSRSEC), the 442-page report exempts 3,247.85 sq km of human settlements and agricultural land from the territorial extent of ESAs spread over 123 villages. It includes scientifically validated colour-coded maps showing the ESA and land use area in each of the villages.

While the first set of maps show the ESA and non ESA areas in green and yellow respectively, the land use maps use five different colours to demarcate agricultural land, built-up areas, forests, wasteland and water bodies. According to the revised data released by the report, the natural landscape marked as ESA in Kerala covers 9,659.03 sq km, against the 13,108 sq km demarcated by the HLWG.

Maps to be fine-tuned

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the detailed maps were prepared to ensure that all human settlements were exempted from the ESAs. The maps were subject to further alteration after a second round of verification by the panchayat-level committees set up for the purpose, he said in a press note issued here. Mr.Chandy said the territorial extent of ESAs would be fine tuned using the cadastral-level village maps.

He added that the final report and maps showing the boundaries of the ESAs would be published only after the State-level expert panel headed by Oommen V. Oommen approves the data submitted by the panchayat committees.

Prepared by a GIS team led by scientist S.Jane Mithra over a period of 10 days, the KSRSEC report is based on the geospatial analysis of the land use pattern of each of the 123 villages using remote sensing imagery and geoinformatics tools. The geospatial analysis was done on a scale of 1:12500. While the area pertaining to protected forests, wastelands and water bodies were demarcated as ESA, settlements and agricultural lands within the village boundary were separated as non ESA. The draft maps have been posted on the websites www.ksrec.kerala.gov.in and www.keralabiodiversity.org

For the baseline data, the GIS team used Survey of India topographic maps and village boundaries as well as thematic information from remote sensing images and spatial statistics from local bodies.

During the mapping exercise, the team found that the Kuttampuzha village of Kothamangalam taluk in Ernakulam district had been erroneously included in the Devikulam taluk of Idukki district in the HLWG report. The observed geographical area for the 123 villages in 25 taluks was found to be 12,906.88 sq km against 13,108 sq km demarcated by the HLWG, showing a difference of 201.12 sq km.

The 3,247.85 sq km recommended for exemption from ESA includes 3,117.66 sq km of agricultural land and 130.19 sq km of human settlements. Out of the total ESA of 9,659.03 sq km, the observed forest area is 8,734.77 sq km while 924.26 sq km includes barren rocky, stony waste, sheet rock, mining and industrial waste lands and scrubby land demarcated as wasteland.

The report shows the district, taluk and village-wise area distribution of ESAs in tabular form.

Dr. Oommen told The Hindu that the exact boundary, shape and area of the ESAs could be finalised only by plotting the maps against cadastral village maps registered with high resolution satellite data.

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