November 13 order to hold good in 123 villages

The office memorandum (OM) released by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests on Tuesday has removed a potential hurdle to the issue of a draft notification accepting the Kerala government’s recommendation to keep human settlements, plantations, and farm land out of the Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs) identified by the High Level Working Group (HLWG) on the conservation of the Western Ghats.

Officials say the OM had to be issued on the eve of the declaration of the Parliament elections to make the government’s intention clear before the model code of conduct came into force. They expect the draft notification to be issued in a day or two after the due process of vetting by the Law Ministry.

“The OM has to be seen as just a procedural formality before the draft notification is issued. It has to be noted that except for the order issued on November 13, the MoEF had resorted to OMs on the Kasturirangan committee on three occasions,” an official said. “Kerala is the only State to have responded to the proposed implementation of the HLWG report,” he said.

Physical verification

Once the draft notification is issued, the six States bordering the Western Ghats would be given 60 days to formulate their response after carrying out a physical verification of the ESAs. The official said the directives issued by the MoEF on November 13 would hold good in the 123 villages identified as ESAs by the HLWG until the final notification was issued based on the States’ response.

In the order dated November 13, the MoEF had curbed on mining, quarrying, thermal power plants, red category industries, and major building projects. The Ministry had issued the order after the National Green Tribunal allowed it the choice of taking a course different from that recommended by the Madhav Gadgil committee. All the six States had objected to the Gadgil report.

Meanwhile, the Oommen V. Oommen committee set up by the State to study the impact of the HLWG recommendations is gearing up to consolidate the verification of ESAs by an expert panel comprising officials from the Kerala State Remote Sensing and Environment Centre, Centre for Earth Science Studies, and Kerala State Biodiversity Board.

The State’s argument for the exclusion of 2,500 sq km from ESAs is based on the data generated by the expert panel.

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