Sunday, January 5, 2014

Govt of Kerala should withdraw the new criteria fixed for demarcating Eco Sensitive Zones

6th January 2013


     The Principal Secretary,
     Department of Environment and Climate Change,
     Government of Kerala.

Respected Sir,

 SUB: Objection to the criteria suggested for the field verification and demarcation of Eco-Sensitive Zones under HLWG Report.

Kindly see the references. As per Ref No.2, the State governments are free to do field verification for detecting the Eco-Sensitive Zones and inform their opinion to the Ministry of Environment and Forest. In my opinion, HLWG report completely failed to address the ecological conservation in its sense, and participatory approach taken by the WGEEP report. It also failed to address the meaning of Eco Sensitive Zones with respect to various directions from Supreme Court and High Courts, in this regard. The HLWG report viz Kasturirangan Committee report, though a highly diluted report, has been accepted in principle by the MoEF which is not going to bring about the much needed ecologically sensitive and sensible planning across the Western Ghats outlined in WGEEP report or several attempts made prior to it.

The MoEF had also completely failed to keep the continuity of this attempt to protect the Western Ghats. The conclusion of the earlier attempts like Pranab Sen Committee report, various SC directions, suggestions of National Wildlife Board, WGEEP Report were not at all considered by the HLWG or even MoEF. HLWG report explicitly mentions that wildlife habitats are not considered, except the Tiger and Elephant corridors, while the demarcation of ESZ. This is a very serious failure of the HLWG Report. Therefore the un scientific criteria accepted by the HLWG report need not be followed by the State off Kerala.

Through the layered zonation approach WGEEP report has ensured that development related to rivers and   forests in the Western Ghats, the most critical to sustainable development in any landscape are brought under some sort of regulatory regime to ensure their continuity and ecological integrity. The HLWG report has meanwhile categorically divided forests and rivers between natural and cultural landscapes thus affecting their habitat and ecological continuity. For instance, studies world-wide, including in India indicate that freshwater biodiversity is even under greater threat than forest biodiversity. WGEEP perspective considers this properly, including in its specific consideration of riverine forests, whereas the HLWG just ignores it.

Now, as per Reference No.1, the State government has formed a committee, including the local officials, to conduct the field verification and to find the actual ESZ areas, by applying the accepted criteria of the ESZ. In the said government order, there are some directions issued to the officials.
1.   To demarcate the human inhabited, agricultural and plantation areas correctly and exclude all these areas from ESZ.
2.      To exclude the forest lands where the encroachment was happened before 1-1-1977 and regularized by the government.

  I am strongly opposing these directions, as it is issued without proper authority, and it will destroy the purpose of the ESZ declaration. These directions will further reduce the ESZ area to a large extend, and will allow to extend the destruction of Western Ghats into more areas. It will be counterproductive to the purposes enumerated in the WGEEP report or HLWG report. State government has no authority to direct excluding such areas from the demarcation or physical verification of ESZ.

As per Ref.2 OM, the officials and the State government are bound to follow the criteria accepted by the HLWG Report, which is explained in the pages 56 and 57 of the HLWG Report. It is very clear that, the population density of the village has taken into consideration only if the village area comes within the definition “High Biological Richness area with Medium Forest fragmentation”.  If the village comes within ‘Very high biological richness with low or medium forest fragmentation’, the village should have included in the ESZ without considering its population density.  If the village comes within ‘High biological richness with low forest fragmentation’, then also that village will have to be included in the ESZ without considering its population density. It is pertinent to note that, the any of the villages listed in the government order do not come within the definition of ‘High Biological Richness area with Medium Forest fragmentation’. A mere perusal of the forest records and the bio-diversity register prepared by the local bio-diversity management committees (BMC), we can easily understand that these villages are having the presence of so many endemic and threatened species, and definitely will come under the definition ‘very high biodiversity’. Since the fragmentation of the forest is very low, it has to be concluded that, in no way, the ‘population density’ can be taken as a criteria in those villages.

It is also evident from the WGEEP Report and HLWG report that, the area under agriculture and plantation is not a part of the accepted criteria for identifying ESZ. There is no role for such lands in identifying the ESZ. The directions from the Hon’ble Supreme Court in several cases including Goa Foundation Vs Union of India, also has to be followed while identifying the Eco sensitive Zone. The suggestions of the National Wildlife Advisory Board, in which the Hon’ble Prime Minister is the Chairman, also need to be followed. In none of the recommendations, population is a criterion for the exclusion of an area from ESZ. Neither under the EP Act nor under the OM dated 20-12-2013 referred in the above mentioned Govt order, the state government has got authority to fix new criteria for identifying the ESZ, other than following the existing criteria accepted by the Central Government as advised by Pranob Sen report, WGEEP report, or HLWG report. Hence, the new criteria prescribed in the above mentioned Government order for the demarcation of ESZs are unfair, unsustainable, anti environmental and illegal and therefore is liable to be withdrawn.

Considering the above mentioned arguments, I submit that state environment department is duty bound to accept the criteria declared by the WGEEP Report, Pranab Sen Committee, the Hon’ble Supreme Court, or at least the HLWG Report, while demarcating the eco sensitive areas of the Western Ghats. The direction to exclude populated areas and plantation areas are against the principles of conservation and the criteria accepted for identifying ESZ. I request you to withdraw that government order, reject the Oommen Committee report, and follow the legally accepted criteria in WGEEP Report for the demarcation of Eco Sensitive Zone.

          Thanking you,

                                            Yours sincerely,     
                                            Adv.Harish Vasudevan.