The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has asked the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) to consider the recommendations of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) report while granting environmental clearance to projects in the ecologically sensitive zone–I (ESZ-1) in the Western Ghats.
The NGT passed the interim order on Wednesday while hearing a petition filed by five non-government organisations from Goa, Karnataka and Kerala that sought a stay on granting environmental clearances in the ecologically sensitive areas in the Western Ghats, which fall in five states — Maharashtra, Goa, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
“As and when the ministry considers applications for granting environmental clearance in respect of areas falling in ESZ-1, they shall take note of WGEEP report and take decision only in consonance with the provisions made therein,” the NGT order states. “The state level environment appraisal committees shall also adhere to the same restriction in respect of ESZ-1 zone.”
“ESZ-I areas are those which fall outside the boundaries of wildlife sanctuaries and reserve forests but have been given the status of a protected area in our report. The parameters we saw was the ecological sensitivity of the area’s biodiversity,” said Madhav Gadgil, who headed the WGEEP.
In Maharashtra, the ESZ-1 covers Wadaon, Paud, Bhor, Patan, Mahabaleshwar and Medha talukas.
The WGEEP was constituted in February 2010 to look into the impact of development projects in the ecologically fragile Western Ghats region.
The WGEEP submitted their report to the MoEF on August 31, 2011, but the ministry is yet to take a final call on the recommendations, which are viewed by environmentalists as crucial to the conservation of rich biodiversity and endemic species in the Western Ghats.
“The WGEEP recommendations are not being considered. The decision of MoEF to constitute another committee to review the WGEEP report reveals their intentions quite clearly,” said Claude Alvares, director, Goa Foundation, one of the petitioners.