Order of the National Green Tribunal regarding ESA notification for Western Ghats, 28/09/2020

Order of the National Green Tribunal in the matter of Goa Foundation Vs Union of India dated 28/09/2020.

The issue for consideration is the remedial steps for protection of ecology of Western Ghats, which is an eco-sensitive area. The NGT observed that there was demand for more and more exclusion by those who claim the need for ‘development’ while need for ‘environment protection’ does not allow acceptance of such demands. This aspect needed to be finalized and had been pending consideration for the last eight years.

The NGT in its order of November 22, 2019 had directed that timelines should be adhered to. During that hearing, the Advisor, Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZ) Division, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) was present in person and stated that the matter was being processed and would be positively finalized before March 31, 2020.

This was followed by an affidavit filed by the MoEF&CC March 19, 2020 before the NGT which said that:

1. there was a concern among the states about prohibition of certain activities having implications on medical care, health care and education 

2. The states have said that certain areas within the proposed notification that have since the time of submission of Gadgil Committee report and HLWG, undergone demographic, infrastructural changes. The HLWG report, published in 2012 was based on Census 2001

3. The states have, therefore, excluded certain areas that are otherwise included in the draft notifications and HLWG report. However, some of the states had proposed new areas, in lieu of the proposed exclusions to compensate the overall area for ESA

4.That the government of Karnataka vide letter January 20, 2020 has asked for the withdrawal of the draft Western Ghats notification of October 3, 2018

The MoEF&CC said that the states have called for either alteration in the draft notification or its complete withdrawal. Thus, keeping in view the reservation of the states, the MoEF&CC had proposed to call for meeting of the respective states in March 2020 - to arrive at a consensus for notifying the Western Ghat Eco-Sensitive Area.

The NGT noted that its order of August 24, 2018 had directed that "any alternation in the draft notification dated 27.02.2017 may seriously affect the environment and especially in view of recent incidents in Kerala, we direct that no changes be made to reduce the area of Eco-Sensitive Zone in terms of notification dated 27.02.2017, without the same being considered by this Tribunal".

The bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel, Sonam Phintso Wangdi and expert member Nagin Nanda said that there was no justification for continued delay merely because the states had sought exclusion of area from eco sensitive zone. The NGT directed the MoEF&CC to finalize the notification of eco-sensitive zones for the Western Ghats before December 31, 2020.

A compliance report has to be filed and the case would be listed again before the NGT on February 11, 2021.