NEW DELHI: The Union Environment Ministry has turned down Kerala government’s appeal to further reduce the ecologically sensitive area (ESA) in the state by excluding 886.7 sq km of non-forest area under the Western Ghats draft notification in October this year. The ministry issued a clarification on Dec 3, saying that the ESA area in six Western Ghats states Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu will be 56,825 sq km as per the October draft notification.
Kerala government has written to the ministry seeking to exclude non-forest area from the final notification. The ministry has now said that “list of villages in the eco-sensitive area will same as the draft notification dated October 3, 2018.”Kerala has undertaken the exercise to fine-tune ESA in the state by physical verification.
As per this exercise, ESA is spread over an area of 9993.7 sq km, which includes 9,107 sq km of forest area and 886.7 sq km of non-forest area. The National Green Tribunal, in its Sep 4 order, had restricted 6 states from giving environmental clearance to activities that may adversely affect the eco-sensitive areas, citing that the area was under serious stress. The tribunal took into cognizance post massive floods in Kerala.
In 2010, the UPA government began the process of declaring ESAs by constituting the Madhav Gadgil committee. The report was later junked after protest from all states, especially Kerala, alleging that it hampered development and large habitations.
Subsequently, a high-level working group under former ISRO chairman K Kasturirangan gave a report in 2013 recommending 37% (60,000 hectares) of the Western Ghats as ecological sensitive areas. However, the states were still not satisfied. In places identified as ESAs, projects such as mining, quarrying, sand mining, thermal power plants are not allowed.