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Draft Eco-Sensitive Area Norms for Western Ghats

Context:

The Union Environment Ministry’s latest draft notification on Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA) in the Western Ghats is facing stiff opposition in Karnataka.

  • The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) had issued a draft notification, which demarcated large parts of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra and as eco-sensitive areas.
  • Among these states, Karnataka contains the lion share of the notified areas in the Western Ghats, at 20,668 sq km.

Relevance:

GS III- Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What are Eco-Sensitive Zones?
  2. What does the new draft notification for the Western Ghats say?
  3. What are the curbs that the state governments will have to implement as per the notification?
  4. Suggestions by the Kasturirangan panel

What are Eco-Sensitive Zones?

  • Eco Sensitive Zones are fragile areas around protected areas declared by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
  • They are areas notified by the MoEFCC around Protected Areas, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.
  • The purpose of declaring ESZs is to create some kind of “shock absorbers” to the protected areas by regulating and managing the activities around such areas.
  • Among activities prohibited in the eco-sensitive zone are hydroelectric projects, brick kilns, commercial use of firewood and discharge of untreated effluents in natural water bodies or land areas.
  • No new commercial hotels and resorts shall be permitted within 1 km of the boundary of the protected area or up to the extent of the eco-sensitive zone, whichever is nearer, except for small temporary structures for eco-tourism activities.

What does the new draft notification for the Western Ghats say?

  • The draft notification demarcates 46,832 sq km in the five states Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa and Tamil Nadu as ESA in the Western Ghats.
  • Kerala is excluded from the draft notification and it had earlier undertaken the exercise of demarcating ESA in the state by physical verification.
  • The ESA recommended by the Kerala state government is spread over an area of 9,993.7 square kilometers, in contrast to the 13,108 sq km recommended by the K Kasturirangan panel that gave its report in 2013.
  • Among the five states, 20,668 sq km of the ESA lies in Karnataka, 1,461 sq km in Goa, 17,340 sq km in Maharashtra, 6,914 sq km in Tamil Nadu and 449 sq km in Gujarat.
  • According to the notification, the concerned state governments are responsible for monitoring and enforcing the provisions of the notification.

What are the curbs that the state governments will have to implement as per the notification?

  • The draft notification states there shall be a complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining in the ESA.
  • All existing mines are to be phased out within five years from the date of issue of the final notification or on the expiry of the existing mining lease.
  • It also bars setting up of new thermal power projects and expansion of existing plants in the sensitive area, and the banning of all new ‘Red’ category industries.
    • These are activities that have a Pollution Index score of 60 and above, such as petrochemical manufacturing, and coal liquefaction.
  • The construction of new townships and area development projects will also be prohibited in the areas.
  • However, all existing health care establishments shall continue in ESA and so will new hydropower projects on the basis of the Environmental Impact Assessment notification.
  • ‘Orange’ category industries, with a pollution index score of 41-59, such as jute processing and ‘White’ industries that are considered non-polluting, like chalk making, will also be allowed with strict compliance of environmental regulation.

How will the Centre ensure the implementation of these norms?

  • Decision Support and Monitoring Centre for Western Ghats shall be established by the Environment Ministry in collaboration with the state governments of the Western Ghats region.
  • This will assess and report on the status of ecology of Western Ghats on a regular basis, and provide a decision support facility in the implementation of the provisions of the notification.
  • The post clearance monitoring of projects and activities allowed in the ESA will be carried out by the concerned state government, the State Pollution Control Board and the regional office of the Ministry.
  • All projects in the Eco-sensitive Area which have been given an environmental clearance or forest clearance will be monitored at least once a year by the concerned regional office of the Union Environment Ministry.
  • On an annual basis, the state governments will also prepare a ‘State of Health Report’ of the Western Ghats region within their jurisdiction, and provide details of the steps taken to monitor and enforce the provisions of the notification.

Suggestions by the Kasturirangan panel

  • The panel, formed in 2012, was tasked with the mandate of taking a “holistic view of the issue, and to bring synergy” between the aims of protecting the environment and biodiversity, while maintaining the needs and aspirations of the local and indigenous people, of sustainable development and environmental integrity of the region.
  • This high-level working group had suggested future steps to be taken to prevent further degradation of the fragile ecology of the Ghats.
  • The report had recommended a blanket ban on mining, quarrying, red category industries and thermal power projects.
  • It also stated that the impact of infrastructural projects on the forest and wildlife should be studied before permission is given.

Source: Indian Express


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