The National Green Tribunal has sought the reply of Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on a plea against grant of any clearance to any new project in ecologically sensitive Western Ghats.

The Tribunal also issued notices to the state governments of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa, Kerala, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu seeking their replies on the plea for implementation of the report by Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) on the protection and preservation of Western Ghats.

The plea by two NGOs, Goa Foundation and Peaceful Society, told the Tribunal that the MoEF had set up the WGEEP in March 2010, given the environmental sensitivity and ecological significance of the region.

The WGEEP in its report to MoEF dated August 31, 2011 has designated the entire Western Ghats as an Ecologically Sensitive Area and categorised the whole region in three classes according to their ecological sensitivities.

The NGOs sought to restrain the authorities from granting fresh nods to projects in regions in the first two categories which include 97 talukas in 44 districts of six states.

The WGEEP had in its report recommended that no mining should be allowed in the Western Ghats in Goa.

For mining activities in other areas in two categories, WGEEP had recommended that no new licenses should to be given and where mining exists, it should be phased out in five years, by 2016.

The committee had also recommended that no new polluting industry should be allowed in the regions of the first two categories and non-polluting industries may be allowed with strict regulation and social audit.

The NGOs have sought an interim order seeking directions that no fresh clearances be granted to projects in the two categories.

“Direct the respondents not to issue any consent, Environment Clearance, No Objection Certificate or permission under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986, Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981, Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 and the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 within the Western Ghats area in respect of areas which have been demarcated as Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1 (ESZ1), Ecologically Sensitive Zone 2,” the petition stated.

Terming the Western Ghats as “hotspots of biodiversity”, the petition stated that the region harbours the largest global populations of the Asian Elephant and besides other mammals such as tiger.

“By and large the Western Ghats have been subjected to a rapid erosion of natural capital with the building up of man-made capital, regrettably imposing excessive, unnecessary environmental damage in the process, accompanied by a degradation of social capital as well,” the petition said.