Ecologically Sensitive Areas of Western Ghats; 6 New states Notified

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In a recent interaction between Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and Chief Ministers of six states through a video conference, issues relating to notification of Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) pertaining to Western Ghats were discussed.

These six states include Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.

What are Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA)?

Eco-Sensitive Areas (ESAs) are the areas located within 10 kms around Protected Areas, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. These are notified by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) under Environment Protection Act 1986.

The basic aim is to regulate certain activities around National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries so as to minimise the negative impacts of such activities on the fragile ecosystem encompassing the protected areas.

How did Ecologically Sensitive Areas come up?

The government had constituted a High Level Working Group under the Chairmanship of Dr. Kasturirangan in order to conserve and protect the biodiversity of Western Ghats while allowing for sustainable and inclusive development of the region.

As per of the recommendations by the Committee, few identified geographical areas falling in the six States of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu are to be declared as Ecologically Sensitive Areas.

The Committee recommended to bring just 37% of the Western Ghats under the Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) zones — down from the 64% suggested by the Gadgil Committee report.

Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel or “Gadgil Committee”

The Gadgil Committee headed by ecologist Madhav Gadgil also known as the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) was set up by the government in 2011.

The committee recommended that all of the Western Ghats be declared as the Ecological Sensitive Areas (ESA) with only limited development allowed in graded zones.

The panel had classified the Western Ghats into Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA) 1, 2 and 3 of which ESA-1 is high priority, almost all developmental activities (mining, thermal power plants etc) were restricted in it.

It specified that the system of governance of the environment should be a bottom to top approach (right from Gram sabhas) rather than a top to bottom approach.

It also recommended the constitution of a Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA), as a statutory authority under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, with the powers under Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

The report was criticized for being more environment-friendly and not in tune with the ground realities.

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