New Delhi: Environment Ministry has decided to exempt over 3,000 sq km environmentally fragile land in Kerala’s Western Ghats region from the category of Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs) demarcated by a high-level central government panel.
In its report, High Level Working Group on Western Ghats headed by K Kasturirangan had recommended that 13,108 sq km areas of Western Ghats in Kerala should be declared as ESAs.
However, the Ministry was under tremendous pressure from ruling Congress-led UDF in Kerala to take off habitations, plantations and agricultural areas in the state’s 123 villages falling within the Western Ghat eco-sensitive area.
According to a fresh draft notification on Western Ghats prepared by the ministry, “the Eco-Sensitive Area in the state of Kerala is spread over of an area of 9993.7 sq km, which includes 9107 sq km of forest area and 886.7 sq km of non-forest area”.
This is in line with recommendations of an expert committee set up by Kerala government to examine the Kasturirangan panel report.
The State Government panel had recommended removal of 3,000 sq km environmentally significant areas from the category of ESAs demarcated by the Kasturirangan committee report.
Kerala government had set up the committee to study the impact of the Kasturirangan committee recommendations and had set up panchayat-level committees in 123 villages falling within ESAs as identified by the committee for undertaking field verification and interaction with the stakeholders.
The committee was of the view that agricultural lands, plantations and habitations should be kept out of the ESAs.
Hilly areas of Kerala had witnessed huge protests after the Ministry passed two orders in November 2013 for implementing the Kasturirangan Committee’s report.
In its directive, the Ministry had asked the state governments to ban new polluting industries, mining, quarrying, thermal power plants or large construction projects in the 1,600km long Western Ghats run through Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
The Kasturirangan committee report has become a contentious issue among six affected states. The main objections from the states are about demarcation and about people living in those areas.