New Delhi: The environment ministry is likely to extend yet again the deadline for states to submit site-specific proposals for the declaration of eco-sensitive zones (ESZs) for around 102 national parks and 515 wildlife sanctuaries in the country, a ministry official said on Wednesday.
“We have received proposals for more than 220 protected areas (which includes national parks and wildlife sanctuaries) from various states. But we are yet to receive the others,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Activities conducted in eco-sensitive zones are regulated under the Environment (Protection Act) of 1986 and no polluting industry or mine is allowed to come up in such areas. Industries classified as prohibited under guidelines for declaration of eco-sensitive zones around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries are not allowed to operate in these zones.
The guidelines prohibit activities such as commercial mining, commercial use of firewood and major hydropower projects. Industries causing pollution can’t be set up in eco-sensitive zones. Activities such as felling of trees, commercial use of natural water resources, including groundwater harvesting and setting up of hotels and resorts, are regulated in these areas.
The ministry had extended the deadline to 15 May in February after the states failed to submit their proposals. This followed an earlier extension of the 2011 deadline after the guidelines were notified.
The environment ministry said in 2002 that a 10-km buffer around the boundaries of protected areas will be notified as eco-sensitive zones. But states opposed this on the ground that would come in the way of development. It was decided in 2005 that states will declare eco-sensitive zones based on site-specific, individual cases.
Development projects within 10 km of the 617 protected areas in the country are considered for clearance by the standing committee of the national board for wildlife (NBWL), which has environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan as chairperson.
The ministry told Parliament earlier this month that eco-sensitive zones for seven protected areas had been notified as of 30 April. These include Girnar, Narayan Sarovar, Purna and Vansda in Gujarat, Sultanpur in Haryana, Dalma in Jharkhand and Bandipur in Karnataka.
The process of identifying and notifying an ESZ should have an oversight mechanism as the exercise has far-reaching consequences for wildlife conservation, said Prerna Singh Bindra, an environmentalist and non-official member of NBWL.
“A judiciously planned and notified ESZ will go a long way in protecting the integrity of our few remnant wildlife habitats and PAs (protected areas), while being very mindful of varying regimes of ownership, access and use of these areas,” she said.
A few of the non-official members of NBWL suggested that there should be regional committees to cross check the identification and notification of ESZs in every state to make sure that due diligence has been followed. They had also suggested that the notification of eco-sensitive zones should then be examined by an umbrella committee of the environment ministry set up for this purpose, during the last meeting held on 20 March.
“Eco-sensitive zones are being declared in an arbitrary manner even though it is a very important exercise. The states are rushing to get it done and they are also facing pressure from industry lobbies,” said the member who sought anonymity.
The environment ministry official cited above said notifying ESZs for 617 protected areas in the country would be a mammoth task.