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Exclude 15% of Western Ghats ESA for mining, industries: State requests Centre

PUBLISHED ON MAY 13, 2020 11:11 PM IST

The state will request the Centre to exclude 15% of the area proposed as eco-sensitive area (ESA) in the Western Ghats, in Maharashtra, to allow mining and industrial activity.

The proposal will be made today during a meeting with the Union environment ministry, which is expected to decide on the matter at the same meeting. On Monday, during a meeting chaired by state forest minister Sanjay Rathore with senior forest officials, it was decided the state would request the Union environment ministry to exclude 15%, or 17 villages, from the final ESA notification, said Jeet Singh, additional principal chief conservator of forest, Maharashtra forest department. “This was proposed based on suggestions received from the state’s industries department and mining bodies as the draft ESA extends into some villages falling within mining and Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) areas,” said Singh. He said the state would modify its final response to the draft ESA on the basis of the Centre’s response.

Declaring an ESA imposes restrictions on setting up projects such as mining, quarrying, thermal power plants, industrial units and construction in the area.

On October 3, 2019, the Union environment ministry had proposed a draft of the ESA in the Western Ghats — 56,825 square kilometres (sqkm) spanning six states and covering 37% of the Western Ghats — of which 17,340 sqkm (2,133 villages) were in Maharashtra. So far, the state forest department has excluded 358 of the 2,133 villages from the ESA.

A senior forest official, requesting anonymity, said among the villages planned for exclusion are those in the Dodamarg-Sawantwadi forests, an important elephant and tiger corridor along the Maharashtra-Goa border. The wildlife corridor, home to tigers, leopards, elephants, sloth bears, migratory bird species and the Indian giant squirrel (Maharashtra’s state animal) connects the Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary in Kolhapur in Maharashtra to Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka. The villages will be opened up to mining projects.

Ecologist Madhav Gadgil, who headed the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel formed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 2010, said, “There is a much larger area that needs to be protected comprising origins of rivers and major water courses. They have all been traditionally protected. We are witnessing an era of complete destruction of nature to fill the pockets of a small number of people, which is leading to an increase in the economic disparities. Exclusion of 2,500 plus sqkm will certainly lead to social unrest for local communities for these villages.”

Kanchi Kohli, an environmental governance expert with Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research said, “From the very beginning ESAs are being declared without taking the local situation into account or holding any public consultations. A decision to keep such areas in or outside protected zones needs to be a much more widespread exercise rather than a decision between state and Central governments alone.”

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