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Sunday, Dec 15, 2019

‘Finalize Ecosensitive Zones in Western Ghats or else….’, NGT warns MoEF

Despite several deadlines by the NGT, the finalization of the notification of Ecosensitive Zones is pending for the last eight years.

india Updated: Nov 27, 2019 22:47 IST
Gerard de Souza
Gerard de Souza
Hindustan Times, Panaji
The Western Ghats mountain range covers an area of 140,000 square km along India’s western coast across Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
The Western Ghats mountain range covers an area of 140,000 square km along India’s western coast across Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat.(HT PHOTO)
         

Angry at repeated delays in finalising the Ecosensitive Zones (ESZ) of the Western Ghats, the National Green Tribunal has set a fresh deadline of March 2020 for the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and warned that any further delay would mean that the Advisor would not get any salary till the notification was finalized.

Hearing a petition filed by the Goa Foundation, a public spirited environmental group, the principal bench of the NGT, the NGT bench of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, Justice S P Wangdi, Justice K Ramakrishnan and expert members Dr Nagin Nanda and Saibal Dasgupta warned that the finalization was becoming an unending exercise.

“Having regard to the earlier delay and the violation of an undertaking given to this Tribunal and the need for a speedy finalization of the notification, the ongoing proceedings cannot be unending and need to be suitably curtailed. Accordingly, we direct that if there is a further default and delay beyond March 31, we may have to direct [that] the Advisor, ESZ Division will not be entitled to a salary till compliance and that the draft notification be deemed to be final from 01.04.2020,” the Tribunal ruled on November 22. The order was made available on Wednesday.

Acknowledging that the Western Ghats are a global biodiversity hotspot, and hence needed to be conserved to protect the unique biodiversity the Union Government in 2010 had set up the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel headed by Dr Madhav Gadgil.

In his report submitted in 2011, Dr Gadgil had recommended that large swathes of areas falling within the Western Ghats be marked as ecologically sensitive areas and excluded from damaging activities.

However, owing to opposition from states, the MoEF set up another committee in August 2012 called the High Level Working Group headed by former ISRO Chief Dr K Kasturirangan who further reduced the area to be notified as ESAs. However, this report too was rejected by many states.

Despite several deadlines by the NGT, the finalization of the notification of ESZs is pending for the last eight years since the Gadgil report was submitted in 2011 with several states including Goa dragging their feet on the issue.

The MoEF&CC had told the Tribunal that there was a demand for more and more exclusions by the States and project proponents who claim that the need for ‘development’ which at times conflicts with ‘environment protection’ and that both aspects need to be balanced and finalized.

“The matter has been pending for consideration for the last six years,” the NGT noted. Back in 2017 the MoEF told the NGT that it would be finalized in twelve months.

In August last year, the National Green Tribunal while frowning upon yet another delay had barred Western Ghats states from altering any changes made to the ecologically sensitive areas as any such changes “may seriously affect the environment” especially in view of the floods in Kerala.

Environmentally destructive activities like mining and quarrying, thermal power plants, red category industries residential complexes exceeding 20,000 square metres, etc are to be prohibited in areas that are notified as ESAs.

However, hydropower projects, orange category industries and other existing activities were to be allowed.