The reduction — from existing 59,940sqkm to 56,825sqkm — is mainly due to the cutting down of the Keral'a ESA. The ministry of environment and forest had reduced the area following the state's strong protest against the Centre's previous order.
The ESA — spreading over six states including Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala — is meant for making the earmarked zone a 'no-go area' for high polluting human activities like mining, quarrying, big constructions and setting up industries.
A gazette notification can, however, be made effective only by the new government at Centre. Under the Election Commission's direction, the ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) cannot come out with the 'final' notification till the Parliamentary elections are over.
The MoEF, in the meantime, will get the stakeholders' (including villagers) objections or suggestions on the draft notification during the next 60 days, beginning Tuesday.
The intervening two-month period before the 'final' notification, incorporating those suggestions, will not affect local population in Kerala or any of the remaining five states as the ESA order does not prohibit agriculture, plantation and human settlements in the earmarked villages in Western Ghats.
The draft notification carries list of villages and their detailed area maps within the ESA spreading over six states. It also has annexure identifying the industries (Red category) and big constructions which are completely prohibited within the protected zones.
Such banned industries and constructions include the 85 types of high polluting activities including setting up aluminum smelter, cement plant, fertilizer factory, glass manufacturing units, zinc smelter, automobile manufacturing units, airports and hotels (having 100 rooms and above).
Under the draft notification, setting up hydropower plants will not be banned. Such plants will, however, be set up after getting required environmental clearance. The MoEF, through its draft note changing its previous orders on Western Ghats, has made it clear that "the provisions in this notification shall be subject to the final orders of the court in pending litigation".
An office memorandum, issued on March 4, had made it clear that recommendation of other state governments in the Western Ghats will also be considered by the ministry if they undertake the Kerala-like exercise of demarcating the ESA by physical verification and submit the proposal to the ministry "within 60 days of issuance of the draft notification".
Kerala had been opposed to the ministry's earlier order saying it would affect livelihood of local population. It had pointed out that while in other states in Western Ghats, only a portion of natural landscape has been recommended as ESA by the High Level Working Group (HLWG), in Kerala the ESA (13,108sqkm) was more than the area of natural landscape (12,477sqkm).
Keeping this in mind, the Centre has now reduced the ESA in Kerala from 13,108sqkm to 9,993.7sqkm.
Status of ESA in states:
* Karnataka- 20,668sqkm
* Maharashtra- 17,340sqkm
* Kerala- 9,993sqkm
* Tamil Nadu- 6,914sqkm
* Goa- 1,461sqkm
* Gujarat- 449sqkm
* Original ESA (spreading over six states)- 59,940sqkm
* Total ESA under fresh draft notification- 56,825sqkm
* Reduction- 3,115sqkm