The government’s decision on demarcating an eco-sensitive zone in the Western Ghats will balance the needs of the environment and development by banning excessive mining and polluting industries in the zone, environment minister Prakash Javadekar said on Tuesday.
Javadekar said the eco-friendly zone to be declared by the end of August would be “pro-environment and pro-people” and would not hamper local development or the livelihood of people living in the region.
“We want to allay the fears that development in Western Ghats will not be allowed. At most, excessive mining and polluting industries will be debarred,” he told reporters after a meeting with representatives of six states through which one of the world’s most pristine ecological zones runs through. “We will improve the sanctity of the Western Ghats and ensure sustainable growth there.”
The minister said the new eco-sensitive zone will be declared on the basis of a ground survey of 4,000 villages across states in the Western Ghats.
The state governments have submitted survey reports of these villages, which the ministry will analyse before demarcating the eco-sensitive zone.
The definition of an eco-sensitive zone has been a contentious issue with two government panels recommending restrictions on development activity in such a zone.
The UPA government in 2013 had accepted the Kasturirangan panel report declaring 60,000 sq km, or 30% of the Western Ghats, an eco-sensitive zone, or an area where restrictions are imposed on developmental activities. A draft notification based on the Kasturirangan panel report debarred any mining and major construction activity in the eco-sensitive zone. Before that, the Madhav Gadgil panel had recommended that 1.70 lakh sq km should be declared no-development zone.
The National Democratic Alliance government in August 2014 told the National Green Tribunal it would pursue the Kasturirangan panel recommendations based on satellite mapping of 1.60 lakh sq km of the biodiversity rich area.
But many states, including Congress-ruled Kerala, opposed the move, saying it would hamper development in villages in the Ghats which led to protests by people. Javadekar then put the UPA’s draft notification on hold asking the states to conduct ground surveys.
Official sources said ground surveys suggest the eco-sensitive zone will be less than what the Kasturirangan panel had recommended and would be fragmented, thereby making its implementation a difficult task. They, however, said the real boundary of the eco-sensitive zone would be known after the ministry analysed the survey reports.