Concern over proliferating solar parks near wildlife zone

‘As per law, any solar park within ESZ should be referred to a monitoring panel’

September 21, 2018 10:54 pm | Updated 10:54 pm IST - MYSURU

 Solar power panels installed on an industrial scale very close to the BRT Tiger Reserve and M.M. Hills Wildlife Sanctuary near Kollegal.

Solar power panels installed on an industrial scale very close to the BRT Tiger Reserve and M.M. Hills Wildlife Sanctuary near Kollegal.

There are growing concerns over solar power parks being established on an industrial scale abutting national park and wildlife sanctuaries in Chamarajanagar, which is emerging as a major hub for solar power generation in the State.

At least one solar park, which is already functioning and is spread over 100 acres, has come up at Bandahalli village in Hanur taluk and is located within the eco-sensitive zone of the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary.

There are other solar parks on Kollegal-Hassanur Ghat Road, one of which is hemmed in by BRT Tiger Reserve on one side and M.M. Hills Wildlife Sanctuary on the other.

Though the solar park is around 0.5-1 km distance and technically outside the ESZ, animals do not respect man-made boundaries and chances of wildlife straying from their migratory path cannot be ruled out, say the officials.

The ESZ notifications encourages solar power installation and is not red flagged as it is perceived to be a clean source of energy. “But what the ESZ does not stipulate is the scale of installation and this has come in handy for proponents of solar power who purchase large swathe of land and install panels spread over acres,” according to a senior Forest Department official.

Santosh Kumar, a wildlife activist, pointed out that the purpose of ESZ around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries is to ensure that land use pattern was compatible with the forest environment and hence there were restrictions on its (land use pattern) change.

“But if solar panels are installed in over hundreds of acres, it entails land use change and has to be viewed seriously,” he said. While the concerns are genuine, it was pointed out that no long-term study has been conducted on the impact of solar power plants close to forests.

Meanwhile, the Forest Department officials are waking up to the emerging reality and plan to take up the issue with the higher authorities. “As per the law, any solar park outside the forest area but within ESZ should be referred to a monitoring committee under the chairmanship of the Regional Commissioner and comprising the jurisdictional Deputy Commissioner and forest officials who would decide whether solar parks could be put up on an industrial scale. But so far, it has not happened and we will take it up with Regional Commissioner,” said the official.

This is reckoned to be timely as five more solar parks are scheduled to come up in Chamarajanagar, which has a high percentage of forest cover and is home to Bandipur, BRT Tiger Reserve, M.M. Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, and Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. Solar power plants are no doubt cleaner than coal but does it need to be so close to wildlife zone is the question being raised by officials.

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