Kerala Cabinet on Wednesday decided to oppose declaration of any populated area on the Western Ghats in the State as ecologically sensitive area.

In its response to the report of the High Level Working Group on Western Ghats chaired by K. Kasturirangan, the Cabinet said that Kerala was particular that no settlement area that had been populated for years should be declared as sensitive area on the recommendation of the Group.

Briefing the media, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that the Group had recommended 22 ecologically sensitive areas in Kerala with buffer zone of 12 km. Kerala were not opposed to protection of environment or buffer zones. However, it wanted the buffer zone to be brought down to zero, if the area is populated. Depending on the presence of population, the buffer zone should be zero to 12 km from the sensitive area.

Replying to a question, the Chief Minister said that cardamom estates could not be sensitive areas as they are populated. He denied large scale felling of forest trees from the estates.

He said that Kerala was ahead of other states in protection of forests and wildlife. It had higher area under forests than the national average. The government was committed to preventing encroachment of forests and the extent of encroachments after 1977 was limited, he claimed.