ESA notification on Western Ghats put on hold

A view of the Western Ghats from Walayar on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. File photo: K.K. Mustafah   | Photo Credit: THE HINDU

The new Environment Minister Veerappa Moily’s decision to invite comments from six Chief Ministers on the High-Level Working Group on the Western Ghats has put the final notification of the Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) covering over 59,940 square km of the hills under indefinite suspension.

Before Mr. Moily took over, the Ministry already prepared the draft notification for declaring the ESA under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The declaration would have brought to halt any new mining and other polluting industries from coming up in the natural habitats of hilly terrain in the six States.

The Hindu accessed the draft notification which, sources in the Ministry said, had been approved and a Hindi translation was being awaited before it was put out for mandatory public comments. Under the regulations, the Ministry is required to receive comments from stakeholders including the State governments within 60 days. Subsequently, the Centre would have been obligated to make amendments, if found necessary, and enforce the notification immediately.

The move to invite comments from the State governments even before the draft notification is put out for public consultation has taken the process back to the drawing board. The draft notification for ESA has now been put on hold.

The Hindu contacted the Environment Minister’s office but was informed that he would not be available before January 1 for any comment.

The draft notification notes that in the areas listed in the annexure (comprising the ESA) “there shall be a complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining. All existing mines shall be phased out within five years from the date of issue of the final notification or with the expiry of the current mining lease, whichever is earlier.”

No new thermal power projects and expansion of the existing plants would be allowed in the ESA. “All new ‘Red’ category of industries and expansion of existing industries shall be banned.” The Red category refers to the types of industries listed by either the Centre or States as the most polluting in nature. The notification also operationalised all decisions that the Ministry had taken and announced while approving the High Level panel’s report.

Along with the draft notification, the Ministry had finalised orders to be sent to the State pollution control boards and environmental clearance agencies and the equivalent environment Ministry bodies, asking them not to give permission for setting up the banned industries if their proposals were received after the date of public release of the High Level Working group report – April 17, 2013.

The Ministry earlier ordered that any village-level drawing of boundary for the ESA would be done taking into consideration the inputs provided by the State governments. It clarified that agricultural and livelihood practices in the ESA would not be altered or impacted by the notification. It did not leave the door open for the State governments to alter what other amendments they can recommend in the type of activities that are banned or restricted in the ESA.

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Printable version | Jul 27, 2021 9:09:40 AM |

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