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No clearance for projects in Western Ghats Zone-1

G. Krishnakumar
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The State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) has decided not to grant environmental clearance to any proposals coming under the Ecologically Sensitive Zone-1 of the Western Ghats.

The decision comes in the wake of a direction issued by the National Green Tribunal that the recommendations of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) report should be considered while granting environmental clearance to projects in the ESZ-1 in the Western Ghats. ESZ-I areas are those which fall outside the boundaries of wildlife sanctuaries and reserve forests but have been given the status of a protected area in the WGEEP report.

The taluks coming under the ESZ-1 in the State include Thodupuzha, Udumbanchola, Devikulam, Peerumedu (Idukki); Vythiri, Mananthavadi, Sulthan Bathery (Wayanad); Thalassery (Kannur); Punalur (Kollam); Mannarkadu, Chittur (Palakkad); Ranni (Pathanamthitta); Nedumangad (Thiruvananthapuram); and Irinjalakuda (Thrissur).

The SEIAA, after holding detailed discussions on the recommendations of the expert panel, decided to reject the proposals coming within the ESZ – 1 in the initial stage of processing itself. Promoters of various projects will be asked to submit fresh applications at a later stage especially after the finalisation and implementation of the WGEEP report. The State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) had earlier decided to finalise the areas of ESZ -1 based on the 9X9 grids considering the longitude and latitudes proposed in the WGEEP report.

The ESZs have been divided into three segments in the report. There will be a ban on the use of private forest land for non-forest purpose or agricultural activity in ESZ-1 that lies in close proximity to the Western Ghats. But ESZ-1 does allow extension of village settlements to accommodate increase in population. Development of roads and public infrastructure is permitted once the Ministry of Environment and Forests gives its green signal.

ESZ-2 allows renovation and extension of existing structures such as hotels and resorts. ESZ-3 allows land to be changed from agriculture to non-agriculture purpose.

The WGEEP report had recommended that no mining should be allowed in the Western Ghats in the existing protected areas including national parks and wildlife sanctuaries and in regions of high sensitivity (ESZ-1). It had also suggested that all environmental clearances for mines in these areas should have an additional conditionality requiring 25 per cent reduction in mining every year till 2016, when mining has to be stopped in ESZ-1.

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