States get one last chance to declare ESZs

Move meant to encourage organic farming and rainwater harvesting, curb illegal activities in and around protected forests

GN Bureau | January 16, 2013



In a move expected to boost organic farming and rainwater harvesting in the long run and curb illegal activities in and around protected forests, the union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has set a final deadline for the states to declare eco-sensitive zones (ESZs) under all national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

In a letter to state chief secretaries, environment secretary V Rajagopalan has sought proposals for declaring eco-sensitive zones latest by February 15 as a last opportunity to submit their report. The ministry has told the states that any commercial activity within 10 square kilometres of 650 national parks and sanctuaries will be discontinued if they fail to notify ecologically sensitive areas by then.

The declaration would not affect either people’s everyday activities or agriculture in the region. Rather, organic farming, rainwater harvesting and other eco-friendly activities would get a boost. However, mining activities, quarrying, industries, hotels, saw mills and hydro-electricity generation units are not allowed in a radius of 10 km of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

The Wildlife Conservation Strategy-2002, adopted by the Indian Board for Wildlife, envisaged declaring land within 10 km of the boundary of national parks and sanctuaries as eco-fragile zones for the safety of animals. However, even after repeated request by the environment ministry, only a few states have identified eco-sensitive areas around the sanctuaries.

In the fresh set of directions issued to the states, the MoEF has observed that progress on declaration of eco-sensitive zones has been far from satisfactory in the states. There is a need to create ESZs around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries to conserve wildlife, reduce man-animal conflict and to improve socio-economic conditions of people living around eco-sensitive zones. The bigger requirement is to create awareness among locals regarding these zones.

Despite a Supreme Court ruling stating that a radius of 10 km should be declared as eco-sensitive zone around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, only Haryana, Gujarat, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Assam and Goa had complied with the apex court order. In an order dated December 4, 2006, the court had again directed the other states to comply.

In 2011, the ministry also issued guidelines for declaring the zones mentioning the commercial activities allowed and prohibited in such areas. However, the progress on this front has been far from satisfactory. Few states had submitted proposals to declare the zones in the wildlife areas.

It is in continuation with this that the MoEF has again written letters to state governments to submit proposals on declaration of eco-sensitive zones before February 15. The onus to implement the order this time is on the state chief secretaries. The state government should take steps to declare eco-sensitive zones in cooperation with local gram panchayats and revenue department.

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