The environment ministry has notified a draft of a broken eco-sensitive zone in the biodiversity rich Western Ghats spanning six states, which debars only mining, thermal power plants, big townships and critically polluting industries from the region.
The zone is 56,825 sq kms or 25 % of the total Western Ghats area and was 3,125 sq kms less than what the former environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan had accepted on basis of the Kasturirangan panel. The panel had recommended continuous eco-sensitive zones (ESZs) or 30% of the Western Ghats in every state, whereas the new notification provides small ESZs, excluding human habitats and plantations.
The draft notification was issued by the ministry on September 4 but was not made available on its website. When asked about it, ministry officials said it will be placed on ministry's website on Thursday.
The new set of rules said that all existing mines in the ESZs, which do not include human habitats, will be phased out in five years. It also said that no new thermal power plants and expansion of existing ones will be allowed.
The ministry also said that only those industries that fall under the 'red' category, as classified by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), will not be allowed in the zones. As per CPCB's new definition, 59 industries have been classified as most polluting 'red' category industries, down from the 89 in the earlier classification done in 2012.
The notification also says that projects and constructions with a built-up area of 20,000 sq metres, and townships with an area of 50 hectares and above or with built-up area of 1,50,000 square metres will be prohibited.
However, there will be no restriction on the repairs or extension of existing buildings falling under the ESZ and change in ownership of properties will also not be affected. The notification allows hydro-power projects, all other categories of industries and also asks the states to implement Forest Rights Act for allowing industrial activity.
However, there will be no restriction on the repair or extension of existing buildings falling in the ESZ.
"The government is fully committed to protecting the ecology and sanctity of Western Ghats. At the same time, the government is determined to ensure sustainable development of the population living in the region," said Prakash Javadekar, environment minister, in a statement.