NGT orders MoEF to decide on demarcation of ESA

Updated - November 16, 2021 06:24 pm IST

Published - September 22, 2014 08:35 pm IST - new delhi

The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) submitted a confusing affidavit to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Monday saying State governments in the Western Ghats region may, after undertaking demarcation of eco sensitive areas (ESA) by physical verification, propose the exclusion/inclusion of certain areas in the draft notification dated March 10, 2014.

This draft notification issued by MoEF was based on the ESA demarcated by the high-level working group (HLWG) headed by K. Kasturirangan.

Also, the affidavit said the direction issued under Section five of the Environment Protection Act (EPA) on November 13, 2013, for providing immediate protection to the Western Ghats was in force.

However, this applies to the ESA as demarcated by the HLWG report. The MoEF had issued this direction as part of the follow-up the HLWG report to provide immediate protection to the Western Ghats and maintain its environmental integrity stating that five categories of new and/or expansion projects/activities, which have maximum interventionist and damaging impacts on ecosystems would not be considered for granting environmental clearance in the ESA as identified by the HLWG. This is the bone of contention.

The Ministry stated in an earlier affidavit on August 27 that it was not processing Madhav Gadgil’s report on the Western Ghats. Monday’s affidavit filed by MoEF secretary Ashok Lavasa indicates the Ministry’s willingness to include more areas under ESAs, prompting the NGT to ask if those areas demarcated by Dr. Gadgil should form the basis then.

Justice Swatanter Kumar of the NGT asked the counsel for the Ministry to take direction from secretary or additional secretary on the question of demarcating ESAs. He said that if Kerala had completed its demarcation of ESAs, then let it be finalised. He ticked off the Ministry for taking so long to decide on ESAs despite Kerala having completed its demarcation. He indicated that the NGT wanted to finish off the matter, which was going on for two years, by Wednesday.

Raj Panjwani, counsel for Goa Foundation, which has filed the petition in the NGT said that earlier, the MoEF stated the report of the HLWG was accepted and the draft notification of the eco sensitive areas was based on that report. However, now the MoEF was saying that it could increase the areas under the ESA, which takes everything back to square one. The question is if the draft notification can be extended to all the areas under ESA in the Gadgil report.

He said first you accept the HLWG report and then you say you are prepared to include more areas, which Dr. Gadgil had done in the first place. Monday’s affidavit said the ESA as stated in the draft notification dated March 10, 2014, forms the basis for demarcation of ESA by physical verification by the State government of the Western Ghats region. Such proposals of State governments received after physical verification, would be examined by the Ministry before taking a view on further appropriate action, including issuing a fresh draft notification if required to seek objections from the public on the proposals received from State governments of Western Ghats region.

States have time till December 15, 2014, to submit proposals.

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