Revival of “no-go” zone idea?

In what seems to be a successor to the controversial “no-go zone” concept, mining and other harmful non-forestry activities could soon be banned from forest areas identified as “inviolate”, using a formula created by a high-level Environment Ministry panel.

Wildlife sanctuaries, tiger reserves, national parks – as well as a buffer zone of one km around such protected areas – compact patches of very dense forest, the last remnant of a forest type and forests very near perennial rivers will all be automatically placed within the inviolate zone, according to a report of the Committee to Formulate Objective Parameters for Identification of Inviolate Forest Areas.

The panel was formed in the wake of the demise of the “no-go zone” approach, conceptualised by the former Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, which identified dense forest areas in nine major coal fields where forest clearances would be denied.

Following intense pressure from the mining industry and the Coal Ministry, a ministerial group headed by then-Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee vetoed the idea.

However, in September 2011, the group of Ministers suggested that “identified pristine forest areas, where any mining activity would lead to irreversible damage, should be barred from any kind of non-forest activity.”

Accordingly, the Environment Ministry, now headed by Jayanthi Natarajan, formed a panel to formulate parameters to identify such “inviolate” forest areas.

The panel submitted a report in July 2012, but the Ministry only made it public on Thursday. The next step is to actually prepare geo-referenced maps of inviolate areas using this formula.