Ministry's decision to put on hold ESA notification evokes mixed response

Decision of new Environment Minister Veerappa Moily to put on hold the Ecological Sensitive Are (ESA) a notification on Western Ghats evoked mixed response from cardamom growers in Theni and Idukki districts on Saturday.

While some growers believed that the issue would get prolonged, others believed that it was only a temporary relief. (Forest Ministry had already prepared a draft notification for declaring the ESA under the Environment Protection Act.)

But majority of growers have kept their fingers crossed as they solely depended on steps to be taken by the Kerala Government in this connection.

A three-member expert committee, constituted to formulate the State’s response to the K. Kasturirangan committee, had submitted its report to Kerala Government three days ago after meeting people in the affected areas. The panel also recorded the concerns of people of Idukki district in this connection.

Only solace was that a clause in the proposal stated that villages that have more than 100 population would not be brought under the ESA. Almost all villages in the district would be excluded, if they followed this guideline, they hoped.

At the same time, fund flow from the government on protection of Western Ghats was good.

The Kerala government had recently received Rs.40 crore for environment protection of which Rs.28 crore was offered to Department of Forests, growers worried.

“It really brings us relief. We do know what will happen in the future. It depends on the decision of the Environment Minster,” said members of Cardmom Planters Association.

Already, growers feared that the Centre’s notification to convert Western Ghats into Ecologically Sensitive Area will not only wipe out thousands of acres of cardamom estates, mostly held by Tamils in Idukki district but also leave thousands of daily wage workers in Theni district jobless.

At present, 80 per cent of the country’s total production of cardamom was from Idukki district, nestled in the Western Ghats. About 1.2 lakh acres were under cardamom cultivation in Idukki of which 70,000 acres were registered areas. The dense cardamom producing centres such as Udumbanchola, Peermedu and Devikulam taluks come under core or red zone marked in the notification.