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37% of Western Ghats now no-go zone for industry

The Times of India , Friday, November 15, 2013
Correspondent : Vishwa Mohan,
NEW DELHI: The ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has finally notified nearly 60,000 sq km area of the Western Ghats across six states as Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA), making it a no-go zone where activities like mining, quarrying and setting up thermal power plants and other high polluting industries will be banned with immediate effect.
Building and construction projects of 20,000 sq meters area and above and township and area development projects with an area of 50 hectares and above or with built up area of 1,50,000 sq meters and above will be prohibited in these areas.
Hydro-electric power projects and windmills will, however, be allowed in the ESA under strict green norms and monitoring.
The ministry in its notification, issued on Wednesday, annexed a comprehensive list of state-wise, district-wise and taluka-wise villages in the ESA and posted the details on its website while asking the six states - Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu - to implement the order strictly.
"In case of any violation, appropriate legal action under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 will be taken," said the notification.
The ESA - roughly 37% (59,940 sq km) of the Western Ghats — has been earmarked on the basis of the recommendation of a committee, under the chairmanship of K Kasturirangan (Planning Commission member), which had submitted its report to the government on April 15.
The ministry will soon constitute a committee to monitor the implementation of the Kasturirangan panel report in a time-bound manner.
Though any new or expansion project will be banned in those notified villages across the six states with immediate effect, the applications for getting various environmental clearances which were submitted before April 17 will, however, be processed as per earlier rules.
April 17 is fixed as the cut-off date because the committee had made its report, earmarking those areas as ESZ, public on that date.
The panel had identified the more or less contiguous area — roughly 37% of the Western Ghats — as natural landscape having high biological richness, low forest fragmentation and low population density. It also found that this area also has World Heritage sites and tiger and elephant corridors, making it to be a fit case for earmarked as ecologically sensitive area.
The notification asked the states to follow the "non-tolerance" policy towards prohibiting "highly interventionist and environmentally damaging activities" as Western Ghats has been under unprecedented threats due to mining and urbanization.
It specifically flagged the Red category (high polluting) of industries like thermal power, oil refinery, petrochemical, cement, sugar, pesticide, zinc smelting, leather and integrated steel plants among others, which are part of the list of polluting industries prepared by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and pollution control boards of most of the states, for imposing the ban.
Besides being a global biodiversity hotspot and treasure trove of varieties of flora and fauna, the Western Ghats, which extends over 1,500 km and traverses through six states, is the origin of Godavari, Krishna, Cauvery and a number of other rivers.