Goa has been left with no option but to notify 1,471 sq km of the Western Ghats in its territory as ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs). The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has turned down the state government’s proposal for alterations on notifying the ESAs. The state had approached the MoEF&CC with a proposal that an area of 707 sq km covering 69 villages be notified as ESAs as against the area of 1,471 sq km spread over 99 villages which was recommended by K Kasturirangan-led High-Level Working Group (HLWG). The Centre has made it clear to the six states – Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat – spanned by the Western Ghats that none of them would be exempt from the process of delineating ESAs. There will be a single notification for the entire ESA applicable to all six states.
The MoEF&CC has been working for some years to build a consensus among the six states on the issue. The MoEF&CC had asked the states to submit their disagreements, concerns and views on the prohibited and regulated activities in the ESAs along with the financial incentives proposed by them. The ministry had agreed to constitute an expert committee to assess the recommendations of the states. It promised to rectify the genuine errors and update the lists of villages falling in the ESAs of the draft notification. In response to the ministry’s directives the Goa government had sent its recommendations seeking to reduce the total area of ESAs to less than half of what was earmarked by the Kasturirangan panel. Other states too had sought reduction in ESAs, except Karnataka which said that it was not in favour of the draft notification on the ESAs and had rejected it. The Centre has now given 30 days time to all the six states to submit final proposals for the demarcation of ESAs providing lists of villages to be removed and maps, along with proper justifications in case of deviation from the recommendations of the Kasturirangan panel to expedite the long-pending notification process.
The states must cooperate as protection of the ecology of the Western Ghats with its rich flora and fauna is very important for their economy and their people’s health. The states should take note of a UN panel report released on Monday which says that up to 1 million plant and animal species in the world are on the verge of extinction with decline in biodiversity. The accelerating rate of extinctions meant grave impacts on people around the world are more likely now. It was eroding the foundations of economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life. The UN study has revealed that human-caused climate change was direct driver that was exacerbating the effects environmental degradation and resultant destruction of natural habitats. The report has underscored conclusions of earlier scientific studies which clearly stated that human activity was wreaking havoc on the wild kingdom, threatening existence of everything from giant whales to small flowers and insects.
The findings of the UN study are very relevant to the Western Ghats, which has suffered environmental degradation and destruction of natural habitats for the past several decades. With sizeable areas in the Western Ghats, the coastal areas and the rest of Goa already lost to indiscriminate development, the government and the people need to take every possible step to guarantee that areas in the Western Ghats, which are rich in bio-diversity, are protected and not swallowed by indiscriminate development. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s efforts since 2010 to delineate and notify ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs) in the Western Ghats have not yet brought about results owing to opposition from states that believe that ESAs will harm their economic growth. Goa makes a case that it is small state and does not have much land for large-scale industrial and commercial development. However, the state government cannot escape from the reality that protecting environment is essential to save the natural resources for posterity. The state must maximize the use of existing land resources.