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Centre exempts 3,115 sq km from ESA

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has lifted the restrictions imposed on new projects and activities in 3,115 sq km of human settlements, plantations and agricultural land in Kerala that are included in the Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs) identified by the Kasturirangan committee on the conservation of the Western Ghats.

The amendment to the direction issued under Section 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act (EPA) effectively exempts the 3,115 sq km from the restrictions on granting environmental clearance for five categories of projects and activities which have maximum interventionist and damaging impacts on ecosystems.

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 sq km, including 9,107 sq km of forests and 886 sq km of non-forest area.

State’s recommendation

Approving the State government’s recommendation, the draft notification issued by the MoEFCC on March 10, 2014, had reduced the territorial extent of ESA in Kerala by 3,115 sq km. Taking this reduction into account, the MoEFCC had reworked the figures and notified a total of 56,825 sq km as ESA instead of the original 59,940 sq km. Subsequent notifications issued in 2015, 2017 and 2018 had also demarcated the same area as ESA. However, the notifications specified that the direction issued by the Ministry under the EPA Act on November 13, 2013, would hold good. This had effectively put the brakes on new projects and activities in the earmarked areas.

The amendment notified on December 3, 2018, states that the direction would be applicable only to 56,825 sq km of ESA as mentioned in the draft notification.

Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the amendment was a vindication of the steps taken by the previous UDF government.

Idukki MCH project

Idukki MP Joice George told The Hindu that the immediate beneficiary of the amendment would be the Idukki Medical College Hospital (MCH) project.

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