The maps of Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs) in the state, drafted by the Kerala State Remote Sensing and Environment Centre (KSREC), have major discrepancies including showcasing of Mathikettan Shola, a national park, as agricultural land.
According to environmentalists, the new map excluding human settlements, plantations and agricultural land from the ESAs, identified by K Kasturirangan-headed High Level Working Group for Conservation of Western Ghats, also fails to identify ecological hot spots like Wagamon and Kuruva islands as protected areas. The map accessible at www.ksrec.kerala.gov.in/frmEsa.aspx also disputably identifies some of these regions as “farm lands.” Environmentalists are now planning to launch a campaign against the callous approach of the government while documenting ecologically sensitive areas that need conservation.
“An authoritative document to identify ESAs in India is the Pranob Sen committee report. Going by it, criteria like origin of rivers and endangered species is of prime importance. The KSREC map shows Mathikettan Shola National Park as a farm land,” said Hareesh Vasudevan, High Court lawyer and environmental activist.
Oommen V Oommen, chairman of a three-member panel set up by the state to study the impact of the HLWG report, said that the map is bound to have errors. “They will be addressed through physical verification with the help of villagers. Greens can also submit suggestions,” he said.
Hareesh said that a campaign will be soon initiated to rectify the gross anomalies in the map.
“We will take the map to the villagers and ask them to suggest ecologically sensitive areas that needs to be documented,” he said.
A Lata, Director, River Research Centre, Chalakudy, said that the map fails to draw connectivity between the fragmented forest areas in the state.
“There are two major mistakes that the map has made. One, a major chunk of the ESAs in the map is Kerala’s forest area. It has not considered the adjoining forest areas that are equally important while demarcating ESAs. Second, the ESA demarcation exercise is bound to create a continuity between Kerala’s forest regions, which remain fragmented at present,” said Lata.
A KSREC press release had stated that the maps and the reports were created by a team headed by S Jane Mithra, Scientist of KSREC, in a short span of 10 days.
A final decision on the map is expected by April end. The Centre’s decision to reduce ESA in the state by about 3115 sq km through an official memorandum on March 5 had already rankled environmental activists in the state.