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Environment ministry allows agri, plantation activities along Western Ghats

Environment ministry allows agri, plantation activities along Western Ghats

New Delhi: Under pressure from states like Kerala, environment ministry on Friday allowed agriculture and plantation activities along the Western Ghats which had been banned through the implementation of an earlier order issued last month.

The ministry eased the norms while maintaining that ban on activities including red category industries, mining, quarrying, sand mining, thermal power plants, building and construction projects of 20,000 sq m area and above and township and area development projects with an area of 50 ha and above or with built up area of 1,50,000 sq m and above will continue.

"The earlier OM (office memorandum)...dated 16th November 2013 regarding 'in principle' acceptance of high level working group (HLWG) report on Western Ghats stands withdrawn," the environment ministry said.

The ministry, which had put the ban on the basis of Kasturirangan Panel report on Western Ghats on November 16, now said, "Relevant steps would be initiated to operationalize the recommendations" of the high level working group.

Talking to PTI, environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan said the ministry has not gone back from its decision to implement the Kasturirangan Panel report.

The ministry said the recommendations also do not prohibit or restrict any normal activities relating to plantations, agriculture or any other activity except those which have been specifically prohibited/restricted in the ESA.

The ministry said a high level committee of the MoEF will be set up to monitor the implementation of the recommendations of the HLWG in a time bound manner.

It said that the recommendations given by the Kasturirangan Panel neither put any fresh restrictions on land use in the ESA nor do they in any way impact the continued occupation of land in possession of the local people and affect their day to day activities or normal livelihood.

"In certain parts of Kerela, people were worried it is affecting agriculture activities and I am saying it does not affect....One can practice whatever will not be moved out of your house...,” Natarajan said.

The ministry's decision came after widespread protests in Kerala by various religious groups and political parties against the notification of the report.

The 37 per cent of natural landscape had been identified as ecologically sensitive area by the 10-member high level working group under Kasturirangan.

The area has low forest fragmentation, low population density and containing protected areas, world heritage sites and tiger and elephant corridors.

In its order issued to Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat on November 16, the ministry had said, "the directions of (Kasturirangan panel) will come into force with immediate effect and remain in force till further orders."

"In case of any violation, appropriate legal action under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 shall be taken," it had said.

According to the new order, a draft notification declaring the identified region of the Western Ghats as an Ecologically Sensitive Area along the lines accepted by the ministry would be issued and put up on its website for inputs of stakeholders.

The ministry said all the other major recommendations made by the HLWG particularly with respect to financial arrangements to incentivize green growth in Western Ghats, participation of and involvement of local communities in decision making, data monitoring systems especially the establishment of Decision support and Monitoring Centre for Western Ghats are accepted.

In its November 16 order, which interestingly no longer available on the ministry website, had said that the Kasturirangan panel has recommended a "non-tolerance policy" with respect to highly interventionist and environmentally damaging activities like mining or polluting industries in natural landscape of Western Ghats which is under "unprecedented threats" due to mining and urbanization.

The Kasturirangan report had come under heavy criticism by Madhav Gadgil, author of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report. He has alleged that it was prepared on the basis of "web-based consultation" ignoring concerns of the local people.

The Kasturirangan panel was constituted to examine the detailed Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report prepared under Gadgil's leadership.


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