The National Green Tribunal today held that the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) should expeditiously decide on the issue of exclusion or inclusion of Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs) in Western Ghats region.
Disposing of the plea filed by two NGOs, a bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar, however, said it will be open to the MoEF to declare the ESAs, state-wise or collectively, for the entire Western Ghats.
In view of the affidavit filed by the Secretary, MoEF, we are of the considered view that there is no occasion for the Tribunal to keep this main and other applications pending any longer. MoEF is expected to discharge and perform its statutory obligations expeditiously and in accordance with law, it said.
We are of the considered view that it is not for this Tribunal to pass any anticipated orders or to provide any limitations in the exercise of statutory power vested in the Ministry in terms of the Act of 1986.
It is for the Ministry to take all the initiatives in relation to defining the eco- sensitive areas in the Western Ghats region and take it to its logical end by issuing final notification, it said.
The bench, in its 15-page-judgement, said it will be in the interest of all the stakeholders, including MoEF, that the matters are not further complicated and no fresh Environmental Clearance or permissions are issued by the MoEF till it issues the final notification.
It also held that the direction issued under Section 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 on November 13, 2013 for providing immediate protection to the Western Ghats and maintain its environmental integrity would apply as stated in the affidavit. The only pious hope that we express in the order is that the Ministry should act with utmost expeditiousness and ensure that the interests of the States, individuals, and all concerned stakeholders are not jeopardised any longer, the bench said.
MoEF had, earlier, informed the Tribunal that state governments of the Western Ghats region may propose exclusion or inclusion of certain areas in Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) after undertaking demarcation by physical verification.
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