Balancing demands of development and maintaining the integrity of the biodiversity hotspot: The draft notification of Western Ghats Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) – Kerala

The draft notification of Western Ghats Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) covering about 56,825 sq. km has been put in public domain by the Union Environment and Forests Ministry. The notification, dated March 10 [2014], along the lines the Ministry had announced earlier, has left the demarcation of the ESA in Kerala to the State authorities by banking on their evaluation of the Western Ghats boundaries. […]

This is slated to be the largest ESA declared under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 in the country. The draft notification signalled the penultimate round of a long lasting debate kicked off by the Union government when in 2010, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh set up the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel headed by ecologist Madhav Gadgil. […]

Unlike the Gadgil report, the Kasturirangan panel took pains to delineate densely inhabited areas from forested patches and take a relative middle-path to balancing demands of development and maintaining the integrity of the biodiversity hotspot.

Jayanthi Natarajan, Environment Minister in 2013, passed orders implementing the panel’s report after the National Green Tribunal stepped in to pursue the case. She followed the Kasturirangan report in almost all its recommendations but keeping the protests in Kerala in mind clarified that agrarian practices and plantations would not be either stopped or restricted. But this did not assuage several powerful lobbies in Kerala leading to a political challenge for the Congress-led United Democratic Front government in the State.

Under pressure, the UPA government at the Centre relented and permitted the State to redraw the boundaries of the eco-sensitive zone with the third Environment Minister grappling with the issue in UPA2, Veerappa Moily accepting the new demarcation days before the election model code of conduct coming into force.

Source: Ministry issues draft notification on Western Ghats” by Nitin Sethi, The Hindu, 18 March 2014
Address :
Date Visited: Wed Mar 19 2014 10:16:46 GMT+0100 (CET)

[…] The Ministry said the people from Kerala wishing to file any objections to the draft notification should consult the expert committee report of the State to verify the boundaries. But confusion prevailed in the State government with the Environment Ministry not having revoked the other previous order which has banned approval of any future polluting projects in the 123 villages of Kerala. Other eco-sensitive area curbs though would only come in to play once the notification is finalised and put through official gazette. […]

The Kasturirangan panel itself had screened out all villages where the density of population was more than 100 per square kilometre and where the eco-sensitive zone formed less than 20 per cent of the village area. It said while 29,691 sq km of the State fell within the Western Ghats area, 17,214 sq km of this was cultural landscape – with population densities of more than 100 per sq km and therefore recommended to be kept out and another 4,913 sq km were under national parks. But the Ministry has relied on the argument of the State that even this ESA with low population density is larger than the enumerated natural landscape and should therefore be shrunk.

Source: “Notification to have State’s version” by Nitin Sethi, The Hindu, 6 March 2014
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Date Visited: Wed Mar 19 2014 10:28:26 GMT+0100 (CET)

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