Union Environment Ministry of India on Wednesday, 13 Nov 2013 announced that around 60,000 square km area of the Western Ghats have been identified as an ecologically sensitive zone, out of which over 17,000 sq km falls in Maharashtra and which in total covers 2,133 villages itself in the state.
The objective of marking the fragile zone around the main sanctuaries in the state, including the Tadoba-Andhari tiger reserve, Melghat tiger reserve and Sanjay Gandhi national park in Mumbai with the eco sensitive tag is to protect them from any further mining, quarrying and high-polluting industries. The notification strictly prohibits and bans sand mining, building of thermal power plants and construction of any infrastructural projects above 20,000 sq m area and therefore stating that any violation of norms will lead to appropriate legal action under the Environment (Protection) Act.
The notification asked the states to follow a "non-tolerance" policy towards "highly interventionist and environmentally damaging activities", as mining and urbanisation threaten to upset the fragile ecosystem of the Western Ghats.
The move has come under pressure from environmentalists and experts as they believe notification is pointless as there is still a back door entry option available to the red category industrialists after the government of Maharashtra insisted on the need to allow these industries to flourish. Environmental Impact Mitigation measures dictate that no compromises to the area's biodiversity are to be made however, the notification mentions a cut-off date from which any project initiated earlier is allowed to undertake work therefore allowing the earlier active projects to still remain active regardless of whether their output has a negative impact on the surrounding environment.
Times of India’s article dated Nov 16, 2013, “Eco tag for areas around national parks soon” quoted Mr. Vinay Kumar Sinha, additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest where he said, “ The process to formally declare an eco-sensitive zone takes time as it is a consultative process. Talks have to be held with local communities before the areas are identified.”