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Congress and JD(S) led Karnataka govt turns down Centre’s proposal to declare western ghats eco-sensitive area

The Congress and JD(S) led Karnataka government on Wednesday rejected the recommendations by the Kasturirangan committee under the Union environment ministry on declaring the Western Ghats region an eco-sensitive zone.

The Union ministry will soon be issuing the second draft notification declaring the Western Ghats ESA (eco-sensitive area), after a similar draft expired in 2014, due to the lack of consensus between the affected States and Centre.

Citing that any further additions to the already existing regulations would have ‘an adverse effect on the State’s economy’ the Karnataka State, which is one of the six States to be affected, said it is resolute to urge the Centre to drop the recommendations.

The affected states that also include Tamil Nadu, Goa, Maharashtra, Kerala and Gujarat have 60 days to respond to the draft.

The Centre had on 27th February issued a fresh notification seeking a response from the states on the decision taken by the Kasturirangan-headed High-Level Working Group to further declare 20,666 sq km land in the state as an eco-sensitive zone in order to protect the environment.

The first draft notification had declared 56,825 sq km of the ghats in these six states as ESA.

The Karnataka State cabinet determined to reject the notification furthered that after receiving a unanimous disapproval from the 1,776 villages and gram panchayats that fall under the ESA category for not implementing further restrictions, the State had decided to reject the idea of adding further areas in the ESA category.

The state law minister T B Jayachandra said that Karnataka government’s stance would be unaltered as it was the previous two times the Centre issued notifications last year.

“The state government has diligently protected the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) declared within the region’s national parks and forest reserves and there’s no need to declare habituated areas in 10 districts as ESZ and buffer zones. It will hurt people’s livelihood and restrict development in the region”, said the minister.

The Karnataka forest minister, Shankar R, furthered that the notification will have an adverse effect on the state’s economy as all ‘red category’ industries will be restricted in the Ghats, affecting livelihood.

Red category industries are heavily polluting industries like pesticides, petrochemicals, pulp and paper and cement. The ESA completely restricts mining, setting up new thermal power plants, polluting industries and all new large township and area development projects.

The declaration of Western Ghats ESA has assumed significance because of the massive Kerala floods in July. Distinguished ecologists like Madhav Gadgil have linked unprecedented rainfall, deforestation, mining, construction of dams and ecologically destructive activities to the intensification of floods.

Though keeping the Kerala floods in view the National Green Tribunal (NGT) too on 1st September had denied any reduction in the ESA area, the environment ministry had decided to give the state’s some further time to respond. Senior cabinet ministers, meanwhile, claimed that barring Karnataka, no other state has yet bothered responding to the Centre’s notification.

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