The Union Environment Ministry on Wednesday put out an office memorandum announcing that in the draft notification of the eco-sensitive area (ESA) of the Western Ghats it would propose only 9,937 sq km of Kerala be covered rather than the 12,477 sq km proposed by the Kasturirangan panel. The Ministry said the boundaries drawn by the State would be put in the draft notification of the ESA. Under the norms, the Centre is required to put out a draft notification inviting comments from the public for 60 days.
The Ministry said the people from Kerala wishing to file any objections to the draft notification should consult the expert committee report of the State to verify the boundaries. But confusion prevailed in the State government with the Environment Ministry not having revoked the other previous order which has banned approval of any future polluting projects in the 123 villages of Kerala. Other eco-sensitive area curbs though would only come in to play once the notification is finalised and put through official gazette.
The controversy in Kerala has arisen due to strong lobbies raising concerns about impacts on plantations and rural livelihoods, which the UPA reacted to a day before the election code of conduct came in to place. But the original orders of the government had made it clear that existing plantations and farm practices would not be restricted or altered under the ESA. The Kasturirangan panel itself had screened out all villages where the density of population was more than 100 per square kilometre and where the eco-sensitive zone formed less than 20 per cent of the village area. It said while 29,691 sq km of the State fell within the Western Ghats area, 17,214 sq km of this was cultural landscape – with population densities of more than 100 per sq km and therefore recommended to be kept out and another 4,913 sq km were under national parks. But the Ministry has relied on the argument of the State that even this ESA with low population density is larger than the enumerated natural landscape and should therefore be shrunk.
Keywords: Western Ghats notification