NEW DELHI: Rampant and unregulated development in Western Ghats is touted as one of the main reasons for the Kerala floods. But, for the last five years, six states are dilly dallying on identifying areas in the ecologically sensitive Ghats that will be out of bounds to infrastructure development.
The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, which has been holding meetings with Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Gujarat and Maharashtra, is yet to get all states on board for demarcation of Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs).
In 2010, the UPA government began the process of declaring ESAs by constituting the Madhav Gadgil committee. Incidentally, the geographical analysis of the Kerala floods show maximum damage in areas marked as ESAs by the Gadgil Committee report on the Western Ghats.
The report was junked after protest from all states, especially Kerala, on account 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.
According to top sources in the ministry, all six states have reservations on the kind of activities that are to be restricted, and areas to be marked as sensitive. Karnataka, which has the highest area of 20,668 sq km under ESA, is completely opposed to declaring the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive. In a recent meeting at the ministry, Karnataka expressed its inability to demarcate sensitive area.
“All states barring Karnataka have agreed to make some changes for ESA demarcation. We cannot issue final notification for five states as that will continue to pose threat to the highly sensitive region. We have to declare ESA in six states together. A sub-committee has been constituted to work with Karnataka and clarify its concerns, but no success so far,” said a ministry source.
One of the major concerns has been that ESAs will lead to prohibition of industrial activities. In places identified as ESAs, projects such as mining, quarrying, sand mining, thermal power plants are not allowed.