It’s official: BNP’s eco-sensitive zone reduced by 100

Stiff resistance to the proposal to reduce the regulated buffer zone around protected areas has failed to cut ice with the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), which has given the green signal to reduce the Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) of the Bannerghatta National Park (BNP) by around 100 sq. km.

A gazette notification of the ministry dated March 11 states, “... the Central Government hereby notifies an area to an extent varying from 100 metres to 1 kilometre around the boundary of Bannerghatta National Park, in Bengaluru and Ramanagara districts as the Bannerghatta National Park Ecosensitive Zone.”

Elaborating further on the extent and boundaries, it says the area of the ESZ is 168.84 sq km. The first draft notification issued in 2016 had marked an ESZ area of 268.9 sq. km.

“Proposals related to various national parks and sanctuaries were considered by the Expert Committee of the MOEF&CC at a meeting on February 28, 2017 for finalisation of the draft ESZ notifications. Karnataka, without citing any credible reasons, sought a reduction of over 30% of the ESZ area from 268.96 to 181.57,” the Bannerghatta Nature Conservation Trust said.

The trust pointed out that in October 2018, the Central government, based on a “diluted proposal” of the State government, issued a second draft notification reducing the area by around 100 sq km.

“The maximum distance of 4.5 km had been watered down to a mere 1 km. A clear analysis carried out by us using high resolution satellite imagery revealed that the reduction in distance of the ESZ was to allow several stone quarries and crushing units to continue,” the trust alleged, adding that despite an Environment Ministry circular in September 2014 clarifying that all development projects located within 10 km of national parks or sanctuaries must obtain the prior approval of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), activities like stone quarrying, crushing and large construction projects are coming up in the deemed ESZ of 10 km, unchecked and without approval of the NBWL.

In August 2019, the ministry again asked Karnataka to reconsider the 2016 notification. But the State government stuck to stand. Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa had stated that many development projects around the BNP had stopped as the NBWL clearance was required for any development activity.

Despite the huge public protest with more than 80,000 citizens of Bengaluru sending their objections to the Centre, and BJP MPs Rajeev Chandrashekar, Tejasvi Surya and P C Mohan, voicing their support, the ESZ has been reduced, they said.

“Bannerghatta National Park’s ESZ area is completely untenable. If in 2016 the proposal to notify 268 was justified, leading to the first notification, how is it a problem now? Bengaluru existed even then. Much of the area where the distance from the national park boundary was 4.5 km in 2016, is not towards Bengaluru. It is towards South/South-East which are key corridors with Cauvery North Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu and Cauvery Sanctuary in Karnataka,” pointed out Bhanu Prakash R, co-ordinator, Bannerghatta Nature Conservation Trust, adding that they will take the legal route against the gazette.

Challenge from mining

Forest Department sources said the biggest challenge the park is faced with is from the mining and quarries. “But there is a Supreme Court order prohibiting quarrying and mining activities within 1 km of a protected areas irrespective of the ESZ distance,” said an official.

Residents around the park, who have been fighting against this, said reduction in ESZ will make things “unmanageable.” “We see it as the beginning of the end of the BNP. Thousands of acres of the green belt will now be taken over by the mining and land mafia. A 1 km buffer is nothing to prevent pollution and effluents from affecting the park and its biodiversity,” said a resident, requesting anonymity.

When contacted, Bengaluru Central MP P.C. Mohan said he would “discuss” Mr. Yediyurappa and the Karnataka Forest Minister before taking a call on the next course of action.

Zonal Master Plan

According to the notification, the State Government is required to prepare a Zonal Master Plan within two years “in consultation with local people” and departments such as environment, forest and wildlife, KSPCB, agriculture and revenue “for integrating the ecological and environmental considerations into the plan.”

It says that the Zonal Master Plan “shall not impose any restriction on the approved existing land use, infrastructure and activities” and factor in “improvement of all infrastructure and activities to be more efficient and eco-friendly.”

“The Zonal Master Plan shall provide for restoration of denuded areas, conservation of existing water bodies, management of catchment areas, watershed management, groundwater management, soil and moisture conservation, needs of local community and such other aspects of the ecology and environment that need attention. It shall demarcate all the existing worshipping places, villages and urban settlements, types and kinds of forests, agricultural areas, fertile lands, green area,” the notification says, adding that it should “regulate” development in the Eco-sensitive Zone.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2020 1:31:54 AM |

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