The ‘safe’ area around the city’s lung spaces seems to getting smaller by the day.
While the good news is that the Eco-Sensitive Zone around Bannerghatta National Park (BNP) is one step closer to becoming reality — with the State government’s proposal receiving the nod from an expert committee set up by the Ministry of Environment and Forest, the bad news is that the ESZ area has been significantly reduced.
In June 2016, the draft notification had proposed an area of 268.96 sq. km around the national park, which is seeing urbanisation pressure as well as mining and quarrying along its fringes. During the 24th meeting of the expert committee, the State government reduced the ESZ area to 181.57 sq. km — a nearly one-third reduction in the area around the forests that is to act as a buffer.
The ESZ stretches from just 100 m near the burgeoning villages to 4.5 km in the southern fringes.
While the original notification had included 77 villages and 17 enclosures within the national park, the new notification includes just 16 enclosures, while a majority of the villages have been left out. The MoEF committee has, however, recommended the final notification of this area, subject to the views of the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
“There was pressure from political representatives as the proposed area covered entire villages. In fact, the demand was to reduce this to 100 m around all the villages along Bannerghatta. But, the Supreme Court order states a minimum of 1-km zone around protected areas, with certain exceptions, and we ensured it was followed as much as possible,” said a senior official of the Department of Forests.
In the new notification, instead of covering the entire jurisdiction of the villages, parts of them within this 1-km zone have been covered. These include 29 villages in Bengaluru Urban district, and 48 in Ramanagaram border of the national park. A Forest official conceded that this compromise would affect conservation as the buffer zone remains marginal in an area seeing rapid urbanisation and increasing human-elephant conflict. “In the northern side of the BNP, the villages are a part of the city, and implementing large areas of the ESZ is impossible. But it is the central and southern sides that need to be protected, to ensure the demand for land and development does not conflict with the protection of the forest ... if we want reduction in human-animal conflict, we have to protect natural habitats here,” said conservationist Sanjay Gubbi, who was part of the team that drafted the original ESZ.
Same with CWS
The same pressures applied to the sprawling Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, where human-animal conflict has reached violent proportions.
In October 2016, the State government recommended an ESZ area of 559 sq. km., while recommending numerous dilutions to the ESZ norms, to allow for production of hazardous substances, tourism, construction activities, and extraction of surface water. These suggestions were rejected by the committee which observed that it led to the dilution of the purpose of the ESZs.