In order to bypass the need for a mandatory clearance from the National Board of Wildlife (NBW) for a slew of dams being developed in Sikkim, the Environment Ministry has slashed the protective zone around the hill State’s national parks and sanctuaries from the existing 10 km to an insignificant 25-200 metres.
Under the orders of the Supreme Court, any project falling within 10 km of a national park and sanctuary has to be whetted by the standing committee of the NBW unless a different site-specific protection ring is declared for each of these national parks and sanctuaries.
The standing committee of the board had earlier submitted a report to the Ministry warning that several dams in the State were coming up without the mandatory clearance and Sikkim faced a Goa-like situation with rampant and illegal development of these dams likely to cause devastation just as unlawful mining had done in the coastal State.
The committee had said the proposed Teesta V, Teesta III, Dik Chu, Panan, Tashiding and Ting Ting hydroelectric projects were coming up without the clearance.
But the Ministry has now come up with a way to bypass the wildlife board by sticking to the apex court orders merely technically but not in spirit. The court order said the 10 km protective zone (technically called the Ecosensitive Zone under the Environment Protection Act, 19XX) would be enforced unless the Centre and the State government notified a different perimeter based on scientific assessment. These zones were mandated to ensure that the wildlife parks did not get affected by industrial and development activities that happened right on the edge of these rich wildlife areas.
But the Ministry has quietly put out draft notification to reduce these protective zones around five national parks and sanctuaries from the existing 10 km to a negligible 25-200 metres. The Hindu accessed these draft notifications for Pangolakha, Singba Rhododendron, Fambonglho, Kyongnosla Alpine wildlife sanctuaries and the Khangchendzonga National Park, which are yet to be publicised by the Ministry.