123 villages kept out of Western Ghat green zone

123 villages kept out of Western Ghat green zone

A day before LS poll notification, Centre accedes to Kerala demand

A day before the notification of Lok Sabha polls, the Central government has decided to leave out 123 villages and habitations in Kerala outside the “ecologically sensitive areas” of the Western Ghats following the recommendations of the state government.

The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) has accepted the recommendations of Kerala to fix a new boundary for the ESA and a draft notification is being issued by the ministry incorporating the modifications, says a statement issued by the ministry.

The green ministry says it will consider recommendations of the other states in the Western Ghats region based on similar on-ground exercise if such proposals are forwarded to the ministry within 60 days of issuance of the draft notification.

In the wake of protests on the report of High Level Working Group (HLWG), headed by the Planning Commission member K Kasturirangan, Kerala had constituted an expert committee to study the impact of HLWG recommendations and assess ground level information.

The state government also set up Panchayat level Committees in 123 villages falling within ESAs as identified by HLWG for undertaking field verification and interaction with the stakeholders. 

Based on the recommendations of the expert committee report, Kerala suggested certain changes in the demarcations and boundaries of ESAs within the state, which was conveyed to the environment minister M Veerappa Moily last week. Agricultural lands, plantations and habitations may be kept out of the ESAs. 

No compromise

Hours before the Central government decision, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the state government would not compromise on the livelihood of people settled in the Western Ghats as it pursued a “more balanced” implementation of recommendations made by the Kasturirangan panel.

The government had done everything within its scope to apprise the Centre of concerns raised by the settlers and small-time farmers living on the Ghats, he told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram after a meeting of the State Cabinet.

“There’s no going back on our word that conservation of environment is critical but it has to be done by involving the people,” Chandy said.

Protestors in the high-range districts led by the Church have refused to settle for anything less than a fresh notification that excludes human settlements and plantations from the scope of the report.