The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s back-pedalling on the implementation of the Western Ghats report by Kasturirangan panel was confirmed by the Prime Minister on Friday when in his interaction with media he said, “As far as the Kasturirangan report is concerned, it is still in the stage of being discussed with various State governments. No final decision has been taken.”

A day after, on Saturday, the Kerala government conveyed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh its apprehensions over the K. Kasturirangan Committee report on Western Ghats and asked the Centre to correct flaws in identification of Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA) under the Environment Protection Act, 1972. The PM was on an official visit to the State when the State government conveyed its objections to the implementation of the report.

Official assurance

The Union Environment and Forests Secretary, V. Rajagopalan, had earlier reportedly said: “When we take a final call on the report, the concerns of these States would be addressed and accommodated. But it will take a few months before a final call on this is taken.”

That Kasturirangan panel had recommended and the Union Environment and Forests Ministry earlier accepted that 37% of Western Ghats area would be declared as ESA, restricting environment-damaging activities such as mining, thermal power plants and heavily polluting industries in the declared zone.

The decision to go slow on the implementation of the report came after Veerappa Moily took over the charge of the Ministry from Jayanthi Natarajan, announcing that he would consult Chief Ministers of the affected States before moving ahead.

Ms. Natarajan in the last days of her tenure ordered the acceptance of the panel report. The Hindu had reported on the details of finalised draft notifications which of the ESA which was prepared by the Ministry in parallel but has now been kept in abeyance. The orders of the Ministry had also laid down that agriculture and other livelihood activities of people falling within the ESA of the Western Ghats would not be impacted. In addition, it was announced that the final boundaries of the ESA would be drawn up only on the basis of consultations with the State governments. These two provisions were specifically stated in the order to cater to the demands raised by Kerala but clearly did not assuage apprehensions of the State government.

The orders for various State and Central bodies to not entertain new environment clearance proposals for mining and other polluting industries too had been finalised. These have not been officially withdrawn even though the PM announced that the report was still being discussed with various State governments.