Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Why is Karnataka opposing Centre’s draft Eco-Sensitive Area norms for Western Ghats?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: ESA in Western Ghats

Mains level: Issues with ESA

The Union Environment Ministry’s latest draft notification on Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA) in the Western Ghats is facing stiff opposition in Karnataka.

What is the news?

  • The MoEFCC had issued a draft notification that demarcated large parts of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Maharashtra as eco-sensitive areas.
  • Among these states, Karnataka contains the largest geographical share of the notified areas in the Western Ghats, at 20,668 sq km.

ESA in Western Ghats

  • In 2013, the Kasturirangan committee had submitted a report which recommended that 37% of the Western Ghats, covering an area of 59,940 sq km be classified as ESA.
  • On the basis of this, several drafts were introduced which were subsequently rejected by the surrounding states, including Karnataka.

What is ESA?

  • Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs) or Ecologically Fragile Areas (EFAs) are areas notified by the MoEFCC around Protected Areas, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.
  • The purpose of declaring ESZs is to create some kind of “shock absorbers” to the protected areas by regulating and managing the activities around such areas.
  • They also act as a transition zone from areas of high protection to areas involving lesser protection.

How are they demarcated?

  • The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 does NOT mention the word “Eco-Sensitive Zones”.
  • However, Section 3(2)(v) of the Act, says that Central Government can restrict areas in which any industries, operations or processes or class of industries, operations or processes shall be carried out or shall not, subject to certain safeguards.
  • Besides Rule 5(1) of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 states that central government can prohibit or restrict the location of industries and carrying on certain operations or processes on the basis of certain considerations.
  • The same criteria have been used by the government to declare No Development Zones (NDZs).

Defining its boundaries

  • An ESZ could go up to 10 kilometres around a protected area as provided in the Wildlife Conservation Strategy, 2002.
  • Moreover, in the case where sensitive corridors, connectivity and ecologically important patches, crucial for landscape linkage, are beyond 10 km width, these should be included in the ESZs.
  • Further, even in the context of a particular Protected Area, the distribution of an area of ESZ and the extent of regulation may not be uniform all around and it could be of variable width and extent.

Activities Permitted and Prohibited

  • Permitted: Ongoing agricultural or horticultural practices, rainwater harvesting, organic farming, use of renewable energy sources, and adoption of green technology for all activities.
  • Prohibited: Commercial mining, saw mills, industries causing pollution (air, water, soil, noise etc.), the establishment of major hydroelectric projects (HEP), commercial use of wood, Tourism activities like hot-air balloons over the National Park, discharge of effluents or any solid waste or production of hazardous substances.
  • Under regulation: Felling of trees, the establishment of hotels and resorts, commercial use of natural water, erection of electrical cables, drastic change of agriculture system, e.g. adoption of heavy technology, pesticides etc, widening of roads.

What does the new draft notification for the Western Ghats say?

  • The draft notification demarcates 46,832 sq km in the five states Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa and Tamil Nadu as ESA in the Western Ghats.
  • Kerala is excluded from the draft notification and it had earlier undertaken the exercise of demarcating ESA in the state by physical verification.
  • Among the five states, 20,668 sq km of the ESA lies in Karnataka, 1,461 sq km in Goa, 17,340 sq km in Maharashtra, 6,914 sq km in Tamil Nadu and 449 sq km in Gujarat.
  • According to the notification, the concerned state governments are responsible for monitoring and enforcing the provisions of the notification.

What are the curbs that the state governments will have to implement?

  • The draft notification states there shall be a complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining in the ESA.
  • All existing mines are to be phased out within five years from the date of issue of the final notification or on the expiry of the existing mining lease.
  • It also bars setting up of new thermal power projects and expansion of existing plants in the sensitive area, and the banning of all new ‘Red’ category industries.
  • The construction of new townships and area development projects will also be prohibited in the areas.
  • ‘Orange’ category industries, with a pollution index score of 41-59, such as jute processing and ‘White’ industries that are considered non-polluting will also be allowed with strict compliance.

What were the suggestions by the Kasturirangan panel?

  • The panel, formed in 2012, was tasked with the mandate of taking a “holistic view of the issue, and to bring synergy”.
  • It aimed to protecting the environment and biodiversity, while maintaining the needs and aspirations of the local and indigenous people, of sustainable development and environmental integrity of the region.
  • The report had recommended a blanket ban on mining, quarrying, red category industries and thermal power projects.
  • It also stated that the impact study of infrastructural projects on the forest and wildlife should be conducted before permission is given.

What is Karnataka’s stand on the matter?

  • The Karnataka government has been firm in rejecting the implementation of the guidelines.
  • It has staunchly opposed to the Kasturirangan committee report on Western Ghats.
  • It urged that declaring Western Ghats as ESA would adversely affect the livelihood of people in the region.
  • Environmental experts consider the state government’s decision to be disastrous for the biodiversity of the Western Ghats.


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