Petition for Declaring ESA Unconstitutional
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Recently, a Kerala-based NGO for farmers has moved the Supreme Court (SC) to declare the draft notification on the Western Ghats Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) unconstitutional.
- It has sought a direction to the government to not implement the Madhav Gadgil and Kasturirangan committees’ reports on the conservation of the Western Ghats.
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- The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), also known as Gadgil Committee, and the Kasturirangan Committee, a High-Level Working Group, were constituted to conserve and protect the biodiversity of Western Ghats while allowing for sustainable and inclusive development of the region.
- They recommended that identified geographical areas falling in the six States of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu should be declared as ESA.
- A draft notification related to the same was issued in 2018 mentioning the areas to be notified in the ESA.
- Issues Highlighted by the Petition:
- The draft notification would declare 123 agricultural villages in Kerala as ESA converting the semi-urban villages in the region into forests with no facilities and roads. It will affect 22 lakh people and cripple the economy of Kerala.
- The Centre had wrongly branded people who had been residing in the Western Ghats area, as the “destroyers of the biodiversity and agents of ecological damage.”
- Apart from that, it suggested that ESA in Kerala should be restricted to reserved forests and protected areas.
- Gadgil Committee:
- It recommended that all of the Western Ghats should be declared as the ESA with only limited development allowed in graded zones.
- It classified the Western Ghats into ESA 1, 2 and 3 of which ESA-1 is a high priority zone where almost all of the developmental activities (mining, thermal power plants, etc) should be restricted.
- It also recommended the constitution of Western Ghats Ecology Authority (WGEA), as a statutory authority under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) with the powers under Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
- It was criticised for being more environment-friendly and not in tune with the ground realities.
- Kasturirangan Committee:
- It sought to balance the development and environment protection in contrast to the system proposed by the Gadgil report.
- The committee’s major recommendations were:
- Instead of the total area of Western Ghats, only 37% of the total area to be brought under ESA.
- A complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining in ESA.
- No thermal power projects to be allowed and hydropower projects to be allowed only after detailed study.
- Red industries (highly polluting industries) to be strictly banned.
- Exclusion of inhabited regions and plantations from the purview of ESAs making it a pro-farmer approach.
Ecologically Sensitive Areas
- Eco-Sensitive Zones or Ecologically Fragile Areas are located within 10 km of Protected Areas, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.
- ESAs are notified by the MoEFCC under Environment (Protection) Act 1986.
- Aim: To regulate certain activities around National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries so as to minimise the negative impacts on the fragile ecosystem encompassing the protected areas.
- The matter pertains to the debate of ‘Development versus Conservation’, which highlights that destruction in the name of development should not be encouraged and sustainable development should be given priority.
- A proper analysis based on scientific study followed by consensus among various stakeholders by addressing respective concerns is required to solve the differences in a timely manner.
- Delays in implementation will only accentuate degrading of the prized natural resources of the country hence, with a holistic view of threats and demands on the forest land, products and services, devising strategies must be developed to address them.