Centre may exclude 1,337 sq km from Western Ghats ESA

Western Ghats: Shutterstock

New Delhi: The Centre is likely to consider Kerala's demand to exclude 1,337.24 square kilometres more from the Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) in the Western Ghats. 

Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Bhupender Yadav hinted at the possibility during a discussion with MPs from Kerala, who sought more relaxations in ESA norms. 

According to the draft notification, 123 villages in Kerala have been included in the 'Western Ghats Ecologically Sensitive Area.' If the Centre accepts the State's demand, stringent curbs on construction and industrial activities will be restricted to 92 villages, and the ESA limit will be confined to 8,656.4 square kilometres of physically delineated forest area.

MPs, who attended the meeting, said they have received assurance that the remaining areas will be included in the 'non-core' area, where relaxations are applicable.

Centre to hold talks with Kerala

The Central ministry will be holding talks with Kerala Finance Minister K N Balagopal in this regard on Saturday. Yadav will hold another round of discussion with MPs on December 16. The Central minister also said that a meeting will be convened to discuss the incursion of wild animals into farms.

Currently, an office memorandum issued in 2013 based on the recommendations of the Kasturirangan Committee is in force. The memorandum was amended in 2018 as demanded by Kerala, and the ESA was reduced to 9993.7 square kilometres.

"The Ministry has the recommendations made by the Gadgil and Kasturirangan committees. I have listened to the MPs from Kerala. I have assured them that their demands will be considered." -- Bhupender Yadav, Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change 

Final notification before December 31

Minister Yadav said the Centre is planning to issue the final notification before the fourth draft's validity expires on December 31. However, the National Green Tribunal (NGT)'s approval is necessary to include Kerala's demand in the notification, since the judicial body on environmental issues had in 2018 ordered against altering the ESA recommended in the draft.

Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Ashwini Kumar Choubey, officials from the ministry, MPs Dean Kuriakose, Anto Antony, M K Raghavan, Thomas Chazhikadan, K Muraleedharan, N K Premachandran, Kodikkunnil Suresh, T N Prathapan and Shashi Tharoor attended the meeting.

Banned activities 

Mining, quarrying, sand mining, thermal power plants, buildings measuring up to 20,000 square metres and other constructions, development of townships/areas measuring 1.5 lakh square metres, and industries included in the red category are banned.

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