PANJIM: The Supreme Court bench comprising CJI D Y Chandrachud, Justice P S Narasimha, and Justice J B Pardiwala has directed the Central government to file a counter affidavit within four weeks in the matter concerning the protection of the Western Ghats. The matter is posted for next hearing on July 25. In 2019, a writ petition was filed by several individuals and organizations from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu.
The petitioners expressed concerns about the deforestation and destruction in the Western Ghats.
The petitioners claim that the Central Government and the governments of the six States where the Western Ghats are located have utterly neglected their responsibility to safeguard the region, resulting in its gradual destruction.
The petitioner pointed out that the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had set up the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) in 2010 and the High-Level Working Group (HLWG) in 2012. WGEEP identified 1,29,037 sq km of the Western Ghats as part of it and suggested activities to be allowed or prohibited in Eco-Sensitive Zones 1, 2, and 3. HLWG recommended protecting only 37% of the area, which is 59,940 sq km.
Accordingly, the Central Government has accepted the HLWG's report but has only issued directions under Section 5 of Environment Protection Act,1986(EPA) regulating activities in 56,825 sq. km. (reduced from 59,940 sq. km.) by an amendment dated 03.12.2018 after Kerala's recommendation without examination by MoEFCC. 72,212 sq. km. identified by WGEEP as the Western Ghats have been excluded from legal protection.
The Central Government has issued several draft notifications since 2014 declaring 56,825 sq km. as an Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA), but no final notification has been issued.