A proposed ecologically sensitive no mining zone in the Western Ghats, a green hotspot, would shrink to around 56,825 square kilometers, down from around 77,000 sq kms recommended by a high level panel.
A draft notification by the environment ministry this week allows the ongoing mining for the next five years and development of small residential complexes within the proposed ecological area, which will be 20% less than what the expert panel had recommended.
“All new and expansion projects of building and construction with built up area of 20,000 square metres and above and all new and expansion townships and area development projects with an area of 50 hectares and above or with built up area of 1,50,000 square metres and above shall be prohibited and there shall be no restriction on repair or extension or renovation of existing residential houses in the eco-sensitive area,” the draft rule says.
The high level panel headed by former planning commission member K Kasturirangan had recommended a complete ban on mining and zero tolerance towards construction activity in the Western Ghats, considered as one of the world’s best ecological hotspots.
The rule also provides life-line to the existing highly polluting industries categorised as “red” by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and existing thermal power plants, saying their “expansion will not” be allowed. However, new “red” category industries and thermal power plants will not be allowed in the zone spread across six states on the western coastline of India, the rule says.
The dilution has been done to appease the state governments which had opposed the recommendations of the Kasturirangan panel in 2013.
The proposed rule also accepts the demand of the state governments to allow hydro-power projects in the ecologically sensitive area with a condition of maintaining 30% water flow during lean (summer) season.
Karnataka and Maharashtra had proposed hundreds of small hydro power projects in the Western Ghats which environment experts say could have adverse impact on local marine population. The rule asks the states to conduct a comprehensive study to establish a baseline for each hydro power project.
The eco sensitive zone in the Western Ghats is important to ensure living space for highly unexplored animal and plant species. Around 80 new species of frogs, 30 of fresh water marine and several plants have been discovered there in the last decade. “Many more are to be discovered in the vast space of 1,60,000 sq kms,” said Madhav Gadgil, who headed the first panel on the Western Ghats constituted by the UPA government.
The rule will be notified once people submit their response within next 90 days.