The entire districts of Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg in southern Maharashtra have been “seriously impacted, both environmentally and socially, by a number of mining, power projects and polluting industries”, says a report submitted by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP). The impacts mentioned include pollution (noise, air and ground water), depletion of fisheries, deforestation, siltation of water bodies and “loss of unique biodiversity elements”, among many others. The report claims that there are also numerous illegal activities in these areas causing these problems.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had asked the Panel to examine the Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts and recommend actions to facilitate better mining, power and polluting industries. However, in their recent report, the Panel says that “careful cumulative impact analysis of various developmental activities” is necessary in both districts. The panel has ordered in Ecologically Sensitive Zones 1 and 2, an indefinite moratorium on new environmental clearances for mining. Mining has to be entirely phased out from Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1 by 2016, says the report.
The Panel has also come down heavily on the MoEF, claiming that the MoEF had not released zoning reports developed by the Zoning Atlases for Siting of Industries (ZASI). These zoning reports delineate areas where industries can be set up without too many environmental risks, taking into consideration existing pollution levels and environmentally and socially sensitive areas.
The Environment Impact Assessments carried out in the areas were also described as being “particularly weak in the sections on biodiversity and socio-economic issues”. The Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts are important biodiversity areas since parts of both the districts fall under the species-rich Western Ghats mountain range.