Tamil Nadu

Down to zero: STR’s shrinking buffer zone

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‘Absence of ESZ in places sets a dangerous precedent’

Satyamangalam Tiger Reserve that registered the highest growth in tiger numbers in the country the last four years, will have no eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) or at the most just one kilometre, around its boundary.

According to a draft notification, the extent of ESZ varies from zero to one kilometer around the tiger reserve, and activists in the western region are alike in their opinion that the reduction of ESZ from the default 10 km radius to zero kilometre was to help the mining lobby.

The notification itself states that the STR is highly critical to accommodate the spill-over population of tigers from the Mudumalai, Bandipur Tiger Reserves and Nilgiri North Forest Division through Moyar valley on one hand, and similarly, the BTR Tiger Reserve and Kollegal Forest Divisions connecting on the other side with the Hassanur Range.

Bridging landscapes

It further states that the STR acts as a bridge between the two major landscapes, the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats, ensuring a vast territory for tigers, and thus enhancing long-term conservation measures through exchange of genes between meta populations. Therefore, considering the ecological and conservation value of wildlife wealth, it is necessary to conserve and protect the area around the STR as ESZ, for the better management and protection of wildlife, especially tigers.

In such a context, activists are shocked to know that there will not be any ESZ along the border in many stretches of the tiger reserve, spread over an area of 1411.6094 sq km. The boundary description shows that the ESZ would be zero kilometre in T.N. Palayam block in Erode district. Granite quarries near the Bhavani Sagar dam, that are crucial elephant habitats and corridor, and T.N. Palayam areas, have been purposefully excluded from the eco-sensitive zone to facilitate the mining lobby, said an activist, requesting anonymity.

“It is unacceptable to not have an ESZ along the boundary. The ESZ is created to prevent man-animal conflict. It not only defeats the purpose, but also sets a dangerous precedent,” said K. Kalidas, president, OSAI, an environmental NGO that has worked in the landscape for years.

STR officials were unwilling to comment on the draft notification. They say that a district committee, headed by the Collector, decided on the draft. Activists claim that STR officials have been unwilling to disclose the details for years, keeping it a secret until now, when it has come into the public domain.

However, activists argue that STR officials should have objected to the draft and must have impressed upon the Collector, the need to have a bigger ESZ. Inside the ESZs, commercial mining, stone quarrying and crushing units are prohibited, they point out.

Revenue enclaves

K. Mohanraj, an environmental activist fighting the mining lobby in the landscape, said: “The buffer on the south side should have been up to the Lower Bhavani Canal. Only mining is prohibited in the ESZ and not agriculture, which should be promoted.” In fact, organic farming and agro-forestry are activities that should be promoted in the ESZs, according to the draft.

Activists also say that the STR has a number of revenue enclaves eyed by the rich. “There is a real estate boom, with local lands being bought by outsiders. They plan farmhouses, resorts and other commercial activities that can’t be regulated if the areas don’t fall under the ESZ,” said a local activist.

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Printable version | Jan 30, 2020 2:59:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/down-to-zero-strs-shrinking-buffer-zone/article29534328.ece

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