The eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of Nagarahole National Park, on which a draft notification was issued by the government recently, covers 92 villages on a geographical area of 299.02 sq. km.
The ESZ also includes notified reserve forest areas spread over 269.86 sq. km, which takes the total ESZ area to 566.88 sq. km. Of the 92 villages, nine come under Virajpet taluk of Kodagu, five in Periyapatana taluk, 28 in Hunsur, and 50 in H.D. Kote taluk of Mysuru district.
The range of the ESZ varies from 1 km to 7.44 km, and this has been welcomed by wildlife conservationists as “realistic”. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), which issued the draft notification on July 25, has given the public 60 days from the date of publication to file objections.
Nagarahole did not have an ESZ so far. In the absence of a notified ESZ, lands coming under a radius of 10 km of protected areas are considered ESZ by default. This rule was applied in Nagarahole as well, hindering public aspiration and growth in the areas as a 10-km radius from the forest boundary is an unrealistic estimate. But the draft ESZ recognises the lacunae and stipulates an ESZ ranging from 1 km to 7.44 km.
The next move is the preparation of a zonal master plan by the State government within two years of the final notification’s publication. This should be done in consultation with the local community and competent authorities. The draft ESZ has stipulated that the master plan be prepared by integrating the ecological and environmental imperatives after discussions with the departments of Environment, Forest and Wildlife, Agriculture, Revenue, Urban Development, Tourism, Rural Development, Irrigation, Municipality, Panchayat Raj, and Public Works.
However, the authorities have to ensure there are no restrictions on the existing approved land use and demarcate all the existing places of worship, villages and urban settlements.
Activists say the ESZ will help curb the tendency to approve development and infrastructure projects through forests, which could be inimical to the forest and wildlife. The ESZ stipulates that forests, horticultural areas, agricultural lands, parks, and open spaces coming under the ESZ cannot be used or converted into areas for commercial, residential or industrial purposes.
Consequent to the notification of the ESZ, all new and existing (minor and major) stone quarrying and crushing units are prohibited from operations with immediate effect, except those meeting the domestic needs of bona fide local residents. No new or polluting industry can be established within the ESZ.
A monitoring committee, headed by the regional commissioner of Mysuru and including the MLAs of Hunsur, H.D. Kote, Periyapatana and Virajpet, will be constituted.