Draft notification now limits ESA to 9,993.7 sq km in Kerala

A draft notification issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on Monday effectively released 3,114.3 sq km of human settlements, plantations, and agricultural land in Kerala from the Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs) identified by the Kasturirangan committee on the conservation of the Western Ghats.

The report of the high-level working group, headed by K. Kasturirangan, had recommended the demarcation of a total of 59,940 sq km as ESA in the six States bordering the Western Ghats, namely Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The extent of ESA in Kerala was pegged at 13,108 sq km, an area spread over 123 villages.

Following widespread protests and political turmoil, the Kerala government, on the basis of a ground-level verification, had proposed that the ESA be limited to 9,993.7 sq km, including 9,107 sq km of forests and 886.7 sq km of non-forest area.

Approving the State government’s recommendation, the draft notification has reduced the territorial extent of ESA in Kerala by 3,114.3 sq km. Taking this reduction into account, the MoEF has reworked the figures and notified a total of 56,825 sq km as ESA instead of the original 59,940 sq km.

The draft notification issued under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, however noted that the directions issued by the MoEF on November 13 would hold good. The order had outlined the new projects and activities to be prohibited in the ESAs, including mining, quarrying, thermal power plants, Red category industries, and major building and area development projects. New hydropower projects, Orange category industries and diversion of forestland for other purposes would be allowed only under strict regulations.

The draft notification proposed a State-level participatory mechanism for monitoring and enforcement of restrictions in the ESAs. It also recommends the establishment of a decision support and monitoring centre by the MoEF in collaboration with the six State governments.

The Ministry has invited objections and suggestions to the proposals over a period of 60 days.