MoEF sets deadline to declare eco sensitive zones around national parks, sanctuaries

A decade after the National Board for Wildlife envisaged declaring areas within 10 km of the boundary of national parks and sanctuaries as eco-sensitive zones, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has given one last opportunity to all the States to submit site-specific proposals by February 15.

In a letter to the Chief Wildlife Wardens of all the States, Vivek Saxena, Deputy Inspector General, Wildlife, Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has said the progress in declaring eco-sensitive zones was far from satisfactory despite the Ministry issuing guidelines in February 2011 itself.

“Only a few States have come forward with a proposal and that too for a few of the national parks and sanctuaries in their respective States. The Supreme Court is also considering the issue following a writ petition,” Mr. Saxena said in the letter, circulated to all States early in December 2012.

A letter from the MoEF Secretary has also been issued to Chief Secretaries of all the States and Union Territories in this regard. In case, the State/Union Territory governments fail to submit the proposals within the deadline, the activities that have been prohibited as per the MoEF guidelines would stand prohibited within 10 km of the boundary of National Parks and Sanctuaries, the MoEF secretary cautioned.

As per the guidelines, commercial mining, setting up of industries causing pollution, commercial use of firewood, establishment of all hydroelectric projects, use or production of any hazardous substances, tourism activities like flying over the national park area by any aircraft or hot-air balloons and discharge of effluents and solid waste in natural water bodies or terrestrial area are prohibited.

The need for site-specific proposals has arisen as many of the existing protected areas have already undergone tremendous development in close vicinity to their boundaries with some like Guindy National Park lying in the urban set up, MoEF officials said.

Likewise, the eco-sensitive zones could extend beyond 10 km width in cases of sensitive corridors for connectivity of ecologically important patches crucial for landscape linkage, officials emphasised.

When contacted, State Wildlife authorities said the work on demarcating the ecologically sensitive zones around national parks and sanctuaries has already begun and is likely to be completed within a month. In Tamil Nadu there are 10 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 14 bird sanctuaries, five national parks and a conservation reserve. These protected areas are spread over in an area of 5.46 lakh hectares across the State.

As per procedure, the forest department would first consider the requirement for an eco sensitive zone to act as a shock absorber, suggest best methods for management and broad based thematic activities to be included in the master plan of the region while demarcating the eco sensitive zones. Based on this, the Chief Wildlife Warden would have to group the activities under three heads — prohibitive, restricted with safeguards and permissible — that could be taken up.

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