The recent notification of an ESA (Eco-Sensitive Area) of 20,688 sq kms around Western Ghats in Karnataka has needlessly whipped up passions in the political class. With the state going to elections in just 10 months, political leaders from BJP, Congress and JD(S) would like to whip up people’s sentiments and accrue favour for themselves albeit using such an important environmental issue.
With the Karnataka government deciding to challenge the Centre’s draft ESA notification for Western Ghats, it is extremely disappointing that elected leaders have no idea about the burning need to save the World’s Eighth Biodiversity hotspot, activists bemoan.
In the meeting chaired by the Chief Minister on Monday, ministers and MLAs from coastal and Malnad districts have decided to oppose this notification through all available platforms including legal. In fact, home minister claimed that this notification was done without a scientific survey. All states have been given three months’ time to file their objections on this notification.
With people’s representatives of every hue and color opposing the notification, activists say they are either trying to scuttle or reduce the much-decreased ESA area. They add the draft notification is a much-delayed effort to save this fragile ecosystem from indiscriminate industrialization, mining and unregulated construction and unsustainable development.
State-wise area of Western Ghats Eco-sensitive Area except for State of Kerala
S. No. ESA (sq kms)
1. Gujarat 449
2. Maharashtra 17,340
3. Goa 1,461
4. Karnataka 20,668
5. Tamil Nadu 6,914
Note: Actual area will be finalized based on the recommendation of the State, views of stakeholders and ESZ Expert Committee
On July 6th, 2022, the Centre once again re-issued the 2018 notification as it had lapsed but added a footnote. As per this notification, 1572 villages in Karnataka have been identified across Western Ghats bound districts. They include – Chamarajanagar, Mysuru, Kodagu, Hassan, Chikkamagaluru, Shivamogga, Belagavi, Uttar Kannada, Dakshin Kannada and Udupi.
WHAT HAPPENS IF ESA IS IMPLEMENTED?
The Draft Notification Clarifies:
- There will be No displacement or dislocation of local people living in habitations within ESA
- There will No effect on Agriculture and Plantation activity in Malnad & Karavalli
- There will be No restriction on repair, extension or renovation of existing houses
- All existing hospitals, nursing homes can continue in ESA and proposed PHCs
- There will be No restriction in change in ownership of property by local people
PROHIBITED ACTIVITIES IN ESA
New and Expansion activities disallowed
- Mining Activities
- Thermal Power Plants
- Red Category Industries
- Townships, Building Construction that are 20,000 sq metres or more
- Area Development Projects of 50 hectares or more
REGULATED ACTIVITIES IN ESA (ALLOWED)
- New Hydro-Power Projects allowed as per EIA assessment notification subject to conditions
- Orange and White category industries allowed as per environment regulations
Welcoming the notification, activists in Karnataka say there is an urgent need for all environmentalists to get together and ensure the notification is finalized.
G Veeresh, honorary wildlife warden, Chikkamagaluru adds, “Instead of saving our forests, leaders from across political parties, forgetting their differences have got together to run in a disinformation campaign about ESA in the minds of people living in Western Ghat bound districts. With this attitude, whatever precious, pristine and fragile habitat remains, will be destroyed in the years to come. Further, in our district, all leaders held a meeting and expressed their total opposition to the ESA notification and said it won’t be allowed.”
Shankar Sharma, Power and Climate Policy Analyst says, “It is shocking that our elected representatives, ministers and politicians are unable to read what is clearly written in front of them – a fast escalating climate emergency scenario. The unacceptable levels of forest destruction, encroachment, pollution of air, water and soil should have been viewed by our policy makers as unambiguous indicators of serious challenges ahead of us. It is even more unfortunate that most of the other leaders of our society, especially the political parties, also appear to be unmindful of what is brewing in front of their own eyes. It is unbelievable that we are not concerned about the fate of our own children and grandchildren.”
Forest officials add, “The ESZ notification is very clear that those people and villages falling in the ESA area will neither be displaced nor their livelihoods affected in any manner. With more than 1500 villages notified (draft only), their lives will not change except for those in people running mining, quarrying and other hazardous industry. Presently, those industries which are running will be given five years’ time to shut their industries once the final notification is issued.”
THE REASONS FOR ESA NOTIFICATION
As per the draft notification, it is imperative for us to save the Western Ghats as it is a global biodiversity hotspot and a treasure trove of biological diversity. It harbors many endemic species of flowering plants, endemic fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and invertebrates and is also an important centre of evolution of economically important domesticated plant species such as pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, mango and jackfruit. It has many unique habitats which are home to a variety of endemic species of flora and fauna such as Myristica swamps, the flat-topped lateritic plateaus, the Sholas and wetland and riverine Eco-systems.
In view of its importance, this is the fifth time; the Centre has notified ESA in the last decade but has failed in its attempts to protect the Western Ghats.
It may be recalled the union ministry of environment and forests and climate change appointed a High-Level Working Group (based on the Supreme Court order) which had submitted its report to the Ministry on the 15th April, 2013. The report was also kept in the public domain seeking comments/views of concerned stakeholders and sent to the concerned six State Governments of the Western Ghats region for their considered views on the report. The ministry has come out with this notification albeit many changes in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018 and invited objections but failed to finalize.
With the world in the midst of a Climate Crisis and witnessing wild fires, extreme temperatures, hurricanes, floods, mud and landslides and drought in Asia, Americas, Africa and Europe, it is high time, our elected representatives educated themselves and not interfere in scientific policy matters of which they have neither knowledge nor understanding.
(PHOTO CREDITS FOR IMAGES OF WESTERN GHATS IN CHIKKAMAGALURU – G VEERESH)