Tamil Nadu mum as Centre notifies 135 villages as eco-sensitive areas

Environmentalists have criticised the government of remaining indifferent towards the Western Ghats Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA) even as the Centre issues a draft notification for the third time
File Photo of the Western Ghats.
File Photo of the Western Ghats.

CHENNAI: Environmentalists have criticised the Tamil Nadu government of remaining indifferent towards the Western Ghats Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA)  even as the Centre issues a draft notification for the third time in the last three years.

By the latest notification, 135 villages in Tamil Nadu have been identified as ESA.

A senior official in the Department of Environment said the State government had placed its objections to Madhav Gadgil report in 2011 and the stand remained the same even for Kasturirangan committee report, which was flawed. Many ecologically non-sensitive areas are being included in ESA classification and ecologically sensitive areas are being left out.

However, environmentalists say there is no justification on the part of the government for choosing to be dormant on the issue. The government, so far, has not submitted its formal reply to any of the past notifications.

Even the State forest department has expressed its dissent. Several forest officials posted in Western Ghats wildlife circles, who spoke to Express, said the government should not be irresponsive. “This is a very sensitive issue involving several socio-economic factors. The government should demarcate its ecologically sensitive areas suiting the State’s needs,” they said and added that Tamil Nadu forest cover was well protected under more stringent laws and there was no need for such a notification.

Mac Mohan, the Coimbatore-based environmentalist, said the government had not even conducted a public hearing. Frankly, the forests and the buffer can be protected under the existing laws. In fact, Tamil Nadu constituted a Hill Area Conservation Authority (HACA) which is a regulatory authority for 31 taluks in nine districts falling in the Western Ghats of the State. However, the State government should respond and take a stand on the issue considering the sensitivity of the matter.

“Yes, complete prohibition of mining, thermal power plants, red category industries and large townships in ESA is a welcome move and will go a long way in conserving the Western Ghats, which is the lifeline for southern India,” he said.

Interestingly, the Centre claimed that meetings were convened with Members of Parliament of the Western Ghats region on August 11, 2016. Except for Kerala, other States raised no major objections and had informed that demarcation of an ecologically sensitive area was in an advanced stage of completion.

The Nilgiris MP C Gopalakrishnan said he will study the notification and take up the matter with the State government. Parliament members from Tirunelveli, Erode, Pollachi, Coimbatore and Madurai constituencies, all having endemic populace living in the fringe area of the ghats, refused to comment.

Though the Centre in the draft notification has assured there will be no displacement or dislocation of local people living in habitations within the ESA demarcated in the Western Ghats and practising agriculture and plantation activity due to the provisions contained in the notification, farmers think otherwise. Kerala was the first State to undertake the demarcation of ESA. It had recommended an area of 9993.7 sq.kms, which is over 3,000 sq.km less compared to 13,108 sq.km recommended by the High-Level Working Group headed by Kasturirangan.

In the fresh draft notification, the Union environment ministry, under section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, has notified 56,825 sq.km of the area which is spread across six States,  Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, as the Western Ghats ESA.

In Tamil Nadu, the Centre has identified  6,914 sq.km, including 135 villages as ESA.

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