The order issued by Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change(MoEFCC) on December 3 has effectively exempted 3,155 square kilometers of area from the restrictions applicable to Ecologically Sensitive Areas(ESA).
This has been done by accepting the draft ESA notifications, whereby the Ministry adopted the area of 9993.7 sq.kms of ESA worked out by the Kerala Govt on the basis of independent analysis by the Kerala State Biodiversity Board, instead of the area of 13,108 sq.km of ESA land in Kerala recommended by the Kasturirangan Report.
The order issued by the Ministry on November 13, 2013 in exercise of powers under Section 5 of the Environment Protection Act imposed restrictions on several activities in ESA regions notified by Kasturirangan report. This has been now amended by the order issued on December 3.
As per the amendment, the restrictions will apply only to 9993.7 sq.kms of land in Kerala, which includes 9107 sq.kms of forest area and 886.7 areas of non-forest area. The restrictions pertained to complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining, construction of buildings with built up area of 20,000 square meters and above, township and area development projects with an area of 50 hectares and above or built up area of 1,50,000 sq.meters and above, thermal power plants and establishment of industries in red category.
The High Level Working Group Report(Dr. Kasturirangan Report) had identified 37% of the Western Ghats, covering approximately 59,940 sq.kms of area in six states as ESA, which included 13,108 sq.kms of land in Kerala. The Ministry published the first draft ESA notification in March 2014,calling for the views of states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The Kerala Government caused an independent study to be done by the Kerala Bio Diversity Board under Dr.Ommen V.Oommen, which submitted a report reducing 3,115 sq.kms of land from the area notified by Kasturirangan report.
The draft notifications published by the Ministry in March 2014(which were republished in 2015, 2017 and 2018), had accepted the reduced ESA area recommended by the Kerala Government. However, the restrictions in the order of November 2013 were applicable to the ESA area notified by the Kasturirangan Report. The order issued on December 3 has amended the November 2013 order to reflect the reduction in ESA area in Kerala as per the draft notifications. It mentions that the restrictions will apply to the area of 56,825 sq.kms(instead of 59,940 sq.kms notified by Kasturirangan report) of ESA in the list of villages mentioned in the latest draft notification issued on October 3, 2018.
It may be noted that the NGT had ordered in last August that the ESA notification should be finalised within a period of six months. The NGT had prohibited further reduction of ESA area from the draft notification and ordered that the restrictions will continue to apply in those areas until finalization of notification.