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Ban mining and thermal plants in 37% of western ghats: govt panel

A high level environment ministry committee has asked the government to declare 37 % of 160,000 sq kms of Western Ghats area as ecological sensitive area where no mining or thermal plants should be allowed, Chetan Chauhan reports.

delhi Updated: Apr 18, 2013 01:20 IST
Chetan Chauhan
Chetan Chauhan
Hindustan Times

A high level environment ministry committee has asked the government to declare 37 % of 160,000 sq kms of Western Ghats area as ecological sensitive area where no mining or thermal plants should be allowed.

Other industrial activities should be allowed, the panel said, with restrictions in the 1,600 km long Western Ghats across Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

The panel headed by Planning Commission member K Kasturirangan submitted its report to environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan on Wednesday calling for development in a sustained manner in one of the world’s finest ecological hotspots as reported by HT on Tuesday.

“It is imperative that we protect, manage and regenerate the lands now remaining in the Western Ghats as biologically rich, diverse, natural landscapes. We have reached a threshold from which we cannot slip further,” Kasturirangan said.

The committee constituted to study recommendations of another environment ministry committee headed by former National Advisory Council member Madhav Gadgil paved way for commercial activities.

The Gagdil committee had virtually suggested ban on no new major industrial units in the Western Ghats which has irked the environment ministry, the state governments and the industry lobby.

The Kasturirangan panel used remote sensing technology to differentiate between natural and cultural heritage. The cultural landscape – which includes human settlements, agricultural fields and plantations -- covers 58.44% of the region. The natural landscape ranges over the remaining 41.56%, the report said.

Apart from 37 % ecologically sensitive area, the committee recommended a prohibitory development regime for some 60,000 sq km, spread over the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The prohibitory regime includes allowing hydropower projects ensuring ecological flow of atleast 30 of the rivers in lean season and after a cumulative study to assess impact of each project on the flow pattern of the rivers and forest and biodiversity loss.

It also said that the minimum distance between projects is maintained at 3 km and that not more than 50 per cent of the river basin is affected at any time.

“Wing energy projects should be included in the environment impact assessment notification of 2006 and brought under purview of assessment and clearance,” the committee said, adding that the government should promote industries with “low environmental impacts”.

The committee has allowed building and construction projects up 20,000 sq meters but asked the government to prohibit new townships. Townships and area development projects should be prohibited.

To make project clearance process participatory, the committee wants all projects to require prior-informed consent and no-objection from gram sabha of villages inside ecologically sensitive areas.

“The provision for prior informed consent under the Forest Rights Act will also be strictly enforced, the committee said.

The group also wants that the money earned through commercial activity should be used within the Western Ghats region and for that it suggested the Planning Commission to set up a special Western Ghats Sustainable Development Fund.

“This fund will be used to promote programmes specifically designed to implement an effective ESA regime and incentivize green growth in the region,” the report said.

It also wants the environment ministry to set up Decision Support and Monitoring Centre for Western Ghats having joint management of all six states of Western Ghats region.

First Published: Apr 17, 2013 20:56 IST