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56,825 sq km of Western Ghats declared ecologically sensitive

56,825 sq km of Western Ghats declared ecologically sensitive

New Delhi: Environment Ministry Tuesday issued a draft notification on Western Ghats declaring an area of 56,825 sq km of the hills as ecologically sensitive.

In its report, a High Level Working Group headed by K Kasturirangan had identified approximately 37 per cent of the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive which covers an area of 59,940 sq km of natural landscape of the hills.

However, the Ministry, in its fresh notification exempted over 3,000 sq km environmentally fragile land in Kerala's Western Ghats region from the category of ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs) demarcated by the high-level panel.

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.

"Taking into account the ESA demarcated by Kerala government for the state of Kerala instead of Ecologically Sensitive Area recommended by High Level Working Group for the state, the total Ecologically Sensitive Area for Western Ghats region works out to 56, 825 sq km," the draft notification said.

The Kerala government panel had recommended removal of 3,000 sq km environmentally significant areas from the category of ESAs demarcated by the Kasturirangan committee report. The high-level working group had recommended the government to declare Kerala's 13,108 sq km as ESA.

According to the fresh draft notification, "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".

The draft notification will be open to comments for 60 days from all stakeholders before the environment ministry passes the final order.

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.

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