Plans to create eco-sensitive zones (ESZs) around national parks in Karnataka have come under fire from gram panchayats and political leaders who have pointed to legal violations that the ESZ notification entailed.
Even as the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) fields questions about the wisdom of declaring an ESZ over a 10-km radius around Nagarahole National Park, the Mangala Gram Panchayat, near the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, on Sunday submitted a memorandum to the Ministry objecting to an ESZ proposed here.
The gram panchayat, in its memorandum, describes the decision as having been arrived at in a “totally autocratic and undemocratic manner”. It adds that the ESZ violates existing laws, including the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and the Forest Rights Act 2006.
While the Forest Rights Act 2006 envisages the gram sabha as a statutory authority with powers over the management of forests, the seven-member monitoring committee proposed in the draft ESZ notification are all government officials from the departments of Environment, Urban Development, Revenue, and Forests, the Karnataka Pollution Control Board, and two non-officials from the NGOs, and an expert on ecology, says the memorandum.
In a similar objection to the Bandipur ESZ proposal, Gundlupet MLA, H.S. Mahadeva Prasad, wrote to the MoEF on October 21 pointing out that the local people were not consulted during the drafting of the notification. He also contended that the Karnataka Panchayat Raj Act 1986 specifies that any activity earmarked for the village has to first be approved by the gram sabha.
The notification has several “impracticable” recommendations, he said.
For instance, several activities will be prohibited or regulated in the 138 villages that fall within the proposed ESZ, such as change of land use from agricultural activity, groundwater harvesting, fencing of premises, establishment of poultry and livestock farms, and maintaining village roads.
The Mangala Gram Panchayat's letter contends that the ESZ will encompass the ‘critical tiger habitat' which itself was “illegally” declared without the consent of the gram sabha concerned, as required by the WLPA.
Only last week, MoEF was forced to respond to the Kodagu Zilla Panchayat that opposed an eco-sensitive zone proposed around Nagarahole National Park fearing an impact on livelihoods among other concerns. Activities in the eco-sensitive zones “would be of a regulatory nature rather than prohibitive nature,” the Ministry said.