After the national green tribunal pulled up the environment ministry earlier this month for not deciding on the status of the two reports on Western Ghats, the ministry has decided to accept some of the recommendations of the report submitted by a panel headed by planning commission member K. Kasturirangan over those of the Madhav Gadgil panel.
A report by The Hindu on Wednesday said that the environment ministry has decided to go ahead with the recommendations of the Kasturirangan panel and turn approximately 60,000 square kilometres of the Western Ghats across six states into an ecologically sensitive area (ESA).
Sunita Narain, one of the 10 members of the Kasturirangan group and director general of the research and activist non-profit group Centre for Science and Environment, confirmed this and said that the report has been accepted by the ministry and it was a good step. "At least we can move forward now," she said over the phone.
Narain added that environmental controls over wind energy was a good idea. "We wanted that there should be environmental regulation for wind energy and that is what is being done."
Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan could not be reached for a comment.
The report by the Kasturirangan panel had said that 37% of the total area of the Western Ghats is ecologically sensitive, covering about 60,000 sq. km spread across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The report distinguishes between cultural and natural landscape. It said that cultural landscapes, which include human settlements, agricultural fields and plantations, covered 58.44% of the Western Ghats. It identified 90% of the remaining natural landscape area marked as an ESA. The panel called for a complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining in this area.
"All current mining areas in the ESA should be phased out within the next five years, or at the time of expiry of mining lease, whichever is earlier," the report said.
The panel had recommended that no thermal power projects should be allowed in the ESA and hydropower projects should be allowed only after "a cumulative study which assesses the impact of each project on the flow pattern of the rivers and forest and biodiversity loss" is conducted.
The report had said that all red category industries which are identified as heavily polluting by the environment ministry and include fertilizer plants, oil refineries, tanneries and copper smelters in a list of more than 60 items should be strictly banned.
The report of a panel headed by ecologist Madhav Gadgil had suggested that the whole ESA should be divided into three categories with different rules for each. It had said that 90% of the Western Ghats should be a no-go area.
Gadgil said that nothing had been communicated officially to him since he has submitted the report. "No one has communicated officially to me, neither the environment minister, nor the chief ministers of Maharashtra and Goa. I had requested for an appointment with the environment minister but she refused," he said over the phone.
The ministry decided to review the recommendations of the report submitted by Gadgil panel after chief ministers of various states had complained that it will affect their economies.
Meanwhile, the national green tribunal on 1 October had fined the ministry Rs.25,000 for failing to decide whether it would accept or reject the two reports. It had said that the inaction by the ministry of environment and forests has held up clearances for projects in the area.
The bench headed by chairperson of the tribunal Justice Swatanter Kumar had said that if the ministry fails to submit its stand on both the reports by the date of the next hearing on 12 November, it will call the secretary of the ministry to be present before the tribunal.