The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has opposed the recommendation of the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) on the mechanism for notifying eco-sensitive zones around wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, saying the advisory body to the Supreme Court wants to reduce the size of the zones. In its affidavit to the apex court, the ministry has said that CEC’s proposal of restricting industrial activities in an area of 100 metres to two kilometres from the boundary of the protected areas, instead of notifying site-specific safety zones, lacks scientific basis and does not help in conservation.
In 2002, the ministry (MoEF) had mooted a proposal of declaring an area of 10 km from the boundaries of protected areas as eco-sensitive zones (ESZ). Its aim was to prohibit industrial activities in such zones for the safety of wildlife. However, several state governments challenged the proposal in the Supreme Court, fearing that such notification will hamper development in their states. Later the ministry, on the recommendation of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL), decided that states will declare eco-sensitive zones on site-specific, case-to-case basis, and industrial activities will be regulated in such zones instead of being prohibited. Till the time ESZs are not notified, all projects that require environment clearance and fall within 10 km from the boundary of a protected area will be placed before the standing committee of NBWL for approval.
In February last year, the ministry issued detailed guidelines for identifying ESZs and invited proposals for their notifications. Seven ESZs have been notified in the protected areas of four states since then.
In September this year, CEC submitted a report to the apex court in which it proposed a new mechanism for declaring safety zones around the protected areas. It classified the country’s 102 national parks and 515 wildlife sanctuaries into four categories based on their area, and proposed a safety zone of 2 km, 1 km, 500 m and 100 m from the boundary for each of the category. While it prohibits certain activities in this area, others are left to be regulated or permitted by the state.
The ministry, however, opposes this. “In the CEC report, the basis of proposed zonation on ESZ around the protected areas based on their extent does not qualify scientific rationale. In fact, the proposed regulation as per the CEC report is far less than the 10 km norm adopted by MoEF temporarily, or even less than the eco-sensitive zone proposed by states in a few cases,” notes the affidavit submitted by the ministry.
CEC’s basis for suggesting a new mechanism for declaring ESZs is that the pace of notification of such zones is very slow in the current mechanism. The ministry defended it, saying that the consultation with stakeholders and scientific identification of such zones require time. It said it is following the recommendation of NWBL of making ESZs site-specific and the distance from the boundary of the protected area for declaration of ESZs cannot be uniformly prescribed all over the country as suggested by CEC.