Western Ghats opened for hydro-power projects

Western Ghats opened for hydro-power projects

The Union Environment Ministry on Friday has removed restrictions on setting up a large number of industries in the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats, one of the world's top biodiversity hot spots, provided  these projects clear green screening.

After being stuck for many years, hydro-power projects will be allowed in the Ghats as a clean source of energy if they follow a set of stringent environmental conditions. Two large hydro-power projects in the Western Ghats – Gundia in Karnataka and Athirapilly in Kerala – have not fructified for a long time because of intense agitations and absence of a policy decision.

Only 37 per cent area in the Western Ghats covering 60,000 sq km of natural landscape would be protected as ecologically sensitive area (ESA), the environment ministry says in an order on Friday, accepting the recommendations of a high level working group headed by the Planning Commission member and space scientist K Kasturirangan that studied the issues.

The protected areas represents a continuous band of natural vegetation extending over a distance of 1,500 km, spreading across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The ESA will include protected areas and world heritage sites of the Western Ghats too.

Wind energy and hydro-power projects would be allowed even within the ESA if the project proponents follow “stringent conditions” and “regulations” imposed by the ministry. In addition, a large number of thermal power, mining and township projects may be permitted if the proposals were submitted before April 17, 2013 - the day when the Kasturirangan panel report was put up on the website for public viewing.

The new order that supersedes all preceding orders on the Western Ghats bans mining, quarrying and sand mining as also thermal power plants and Red category of industries in the ESA zones.

But in other parts of the Ghats, all of these projects would be considered if the project proponents filed the application before the cut off date of April 17, 2013.

Going by some estimate, total area in the Western Ghats is about 160,000 sq km.

The boundary of the ESA zones would be finalised only after consultation with state governments.

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