Green tribunal says MoEFs can consider either of the reports

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Tuesday said that it was no longer mandatory for the Environment Ministry to refer to Gadgil panel’s report while deciding applications for clearance for projects in permissible areas of the Western Ghats.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar clarified that with the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) accepting ‘in-principle’ the recommendations of the K. Kasturirangan panel report, the MoEF could now consider either of the reports while deciding the applications for clearance.

“We vary our interim order of September 20, 2012 to the extent that it is not mandatory for the MoEF to decide the application for any clearances in the permissible area of the Western Ghat only with reference to Gadgil report. They are free to take into consideration either of the reports and other relevant factors in accordance with law,” the bench said and listed the matter on December 17.

The tribunal also observed that MoEF’s October 19, 2013 office memorandum (OM), stating the government’s acceptance of recommendations of Kasturirangan panel was silent on various aspects and directed the ministry to file an affidavit to put the matter “beyond ambiguity.”

The petitioner Goa Foundation, represented by senior advocate Raj Panjwani, was asked to file a comparative statement about the recommendations of the two panels as well as the acceptance and stand of the Ministry in that regard.

Kerala’s arguments

The tribunal on the next date will hear the arguments on the contention of the Kerala government that with MoEF accepting the Kasturirangan panel’s recommendations, the plea to put into effect the Gadgil committee’s report was infructuous.

While Kerala contended that the present petition was infructuous due to acceptance of recommendations of the Kasturirangan panel, also known as the High Level Working Group (HLWG), Mr. Panjwani argued that the findings had been accepted only in-principle and thus the reliefs sought in the plea still subsisted.

Some of HLWG’s recommendations which have been accepted in-principle by MoEF (as per its OM) are, definition of the extent of the Western Ghats demarcated by the panel, the ecologically sensitive area (ESA) identified and delineated by it, complete ban on mining, quarrying, sand-mining, thermal power plants and red category industries in ESA.

According to the MoEF’s OM, the Kasturirangan panel has identified approximately 37 per cent (about 60,000 square kilometres) of the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive.

The other recommendations that have been accepted ‘in- principle’ by the Ministry are, hydro and wind energy projects are allowed in the Western Ghats subject to stringent and applicable conditions and that projects already under consideration of the respective State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities and MoEF on the date of issue of draft notification will be considered under the then existing regulations.

In its report submitted to MoEF in August 2011, the Gadgil Committee, also known as the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), had designated the entire Western Ghats as an ‘ecologically sensitive’ area. — PTI

  • MoEFs told to file affidavit on acceptance of Kasturirangan report

  • Plea to put into effect Gadgil report infructuous: Kerala