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Centre ‘cautious’ on declaration of eco-sensitive zones by states

The centre, on Monday, indicated that it was not willing to give a free hand to the states in declaring the eco-sensitive zones around their protected areas, national parks and sanctuaries.

Allaying fears of manipulations by certain states in declaring their eco-sensitive zones, the ministry of environment & forests said it was treading with ‘extreme caution’ on the scale of the eco-fragile zones affirmed by states in response to the directions issued by it to the chief wildlife wardens in December, last year. The ministry also made it clear it was in ‘no hurry’ in fianlising the eco-sensitive proposals.

The National Board for Wildlife (NBW), in 2002, stressed upon the need for notifying 10 kilometres area from the boundaries of national parks and sanctuaries as eco-fragile zones under the Environment Protection Act 1986. Prior permission of the NBW is mandatory for any activity within the 10 km buffer area around a protected area.

 However, on the request of certain states for reassessing the criteria, the NBW, in 2005, decided to delineate the eco-sensitive zones on site-specific basis and changed the mode of conservation from prohibition to regulation of certain activities within such eco-sensitive areas.

 The ecologically sensitive areas around the protected areas were to be evaluated by the states and UTs on factors like the extent of industrialisation, urbanisation and development around each protected area.

‘We have received nearly 360-370 proposals from various states and about 80 from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Since many areas under the proposals from Andamans overlap with the areas falling under the influence of Coastal Regulation Zone, they are being carefully worked out,’ a senior wildlife official of the environment ministry said.

To verify the claims expressed by different states and look after their proposals about their protected areas and sanctuaries, the ministry has constituted a special committee to look into those proposals. Besides, the ministry has also roped in the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), whose officials would check the veracity of such proposals.

‘Each proposal is being considered and worked out on a case to case basis after reconciling the three aspects – conservation, sustainable development and development. In protected areas in states where the blanket rule of 10 kilometres buffer is not feasible or maintainable, we are ensuring that the eco-sensitive zones are marked in such a manner that the habitat of the wildlife is not affected with development or other activities,’ said the official, who asked not to be named, citing hierarchy constraints.

‘Also, various other factors like the physio-geographical parameters of the protected area are being kept in mind. Factors such as elevation on the other side of a given protected area and slopes around such areas also come into play,’ the official added.

Apprehensions have been raised over the manner in which certain states have declared their eco-sensitive zones. The UP government, in the case of Okhla Bird Sanctuaruy, close to the national capital, has stated that it would earmark only 100 metres as the buffer zone, instead of a 10 kilometre radius on the pretexts that it would affect the realtors in the vicinity.

‘There is no room for any manipulation by any state. We are closely coordinating with the states on the matter,’ the official said.
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