'Eco-sensitive tag only for reserve forests'

'Eco-sensitive tag only for reserve forests'

State tells Centre that quarrying and sand mining be allowed in Western Ghats

'Eco-sensitive tag only for reserve forests'

The Karnataka government has suggested to the Centre that only areas that fall under reserve forests, protected forests, wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in the Western Ghats be declared ecologically sensitive.

In a detailed report to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the government said that “all reserve forests or protected forests located in the 40 taluks of the Western Ghats region in Karnataka may only be included in the Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA).”

While the Centre has to finalise the report on declaring certain areas in the Western Ghats as ESA by September 9 this year as per the recommendation of the High-Level Working Group headed by K Kasturirangan, Karnataka suggested that “though (a) complete ban on mining may be accepted, quarrying and sand mining should be allowed to meet local developmental needs.”

Karnataka agreed not to give permits for new thermal power plants and expansion of existing plants in the ESA, but requested the Centre that there should not be any restrictions on the functioning of existing power plants or their future expansion in the ESA of Western Ghats in the State. It also agreed that new hydropower projects should be allowed with certain conditions.

“With several pilgrimage, cultural and historical places located in the ESA, only reasonable restriction can be imposed on people to visit such places but there should not be any complete ban on their entry,” the State government said.

Besides, it urged the Centre to allow hospitals, health care establishments and other public utilities in the region under the ESA.

The letter further said that the expert committee formed by the Karnataka government found that out of 1,553 villages — identified as the ESA by the Kasturirangan committee — just 153 villages could be considered eco-sensitive and the rest dropped from the list due to large-scale human habitation in them.

In a 2013 report, the working group under Kasturirangan had suggested to the Ministry of Environment and Forests that 37 per cent of the Western Ghats area be declared ecologically sensitive, drawing objections from several states.