Karnataka rejects Centre’s plan to declare western ghats eco-sensitive area
The Union environment ministry will be soon issuing a draft notification declaring the Western Ghats as eco-sensitive area (ESA) for a second time after a similar draft in 2014 expired due to a lack of consensus among states and the Centre. Karnataka, one of the six states to be affected, has already said it will not accept the fresh notification as “it will have an adverse effect on state’s economy”.
The affected states that also include Tamil Nadu, Goa, Maharashtra, Kerala and Gujarat will have 60 days time to respond to the draft.
The first draft notification declared 56,825 sq km of the ghats in these states as ESA.
AK Mehta, additional secretary, environment ministry said, “We are in the process of republishing the draft notification. We will have a discussion with Karnataka on the matter because they are not willing to accept the notification.”
Karnataka forest minister, Shankar R, said the state will not accept any curbs under the ESA notification. “The Western Ghats ESA notification will have major impact on the state’s economy. There are already various legislations including the Forest Conservation Act 1980, which ensure protection of forests. Why do we need one more legislation? All red category industries will be restricted in the Ghats, which will affect livelihoods.”
Red category industries are heavily polluting industries like pesticides, petrochemicals, pulp and paper and cement.
The ESA completely restricts mining, setting up of new thermal power plants, polluting industries and all new large township and area development projects. After the environment ministry issued the notification in 2014, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu raised objections, saying it will impact economic development in affected villages and towns. It eventually led the notification to get lapsed.
A senior environment ministry official, who didn’t wish to be named, said this time the other five states seem to be on board requesting minor amendments. “Karnataka, however, is not agreeing with even the concept of ESA,” the official said.
The declaration of Western Ghats ESA has assumed significance because of the massive Kerala floods in July. Prominent ecologists like Madhav Gadgil have linked unprecedented rainfall, deforestation, mining, construction of dams and ecologically destructive activities to the exacerbation of floods.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had on September 1 barred any reduction in the ESA area in view of the Kerala floods. It has directed the environment ministry to not reduce the area covered and issue the notification in to-to. The environment ministry, however, is issuing a draft notification to give states some more time to respond. “We will go back to NGT if states back out,” the official cited above added.
The new ESA notification is based on an assessment by a high-level working group headed by space scientist K Kasturirangan. Before that, a working group headed by Gadgil set up in 2010 had recommended 75% of the Western Ghats area be declared ESA as opposed to 37% proposed by the Kasturirangan committee.
The Gadgil committee had recommended that local bodies and villagers should be consulted before any development project comes up in the ESA. “I don’t think the state government has changed its view on ESA. It had opposed the Gadgil report and 2014 notification, but after the Kerala floods, they have been quiet. From an ecological point of view and after seeing the massive destruction in places like Wyanad and Idukki, we want the Madhav Gadgil committee report to be discussed again,” said R Sridhar of Thanal, a Kerala-based environmental NGO.