New ministry guidelines for eco zones near sanctuaries

The Environment ministry on Tuesday issued new guidelines for declaring eco sensitive zones around National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries, imposing new restrictions on construction, industrial and some tourism activities.

“The zones will work as shock absorbers for the protected areas,” the guidelines states. And its aim is to regulate certain activities,  such as mining around National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries, so as to minimise the negative impacts of such activities.

In fact, it would mean that the Rajasthan government will not be able to allow mining around Sariska and Ranthambore, where such permissions have been granted in the last one year. The guidelines said activities including commercial mining, setting of saw mills and industries causing pollution, commercial use of firewood, major hydropower projects are prohibited in such areas.

The guidelines were finalized after the Supreme Court lashed out at the ministry for failing to draw such guidelines since 2006, in the case related to construction of a park near Okhla Bird Sanctuary. Had the ministry issued the guidelines in time, it could had stopped the construction of the park by Uttar Pradesh government. In December 2010, the court asked the ministry to frame the guidelines as soon as possible.

The Ministry has asked all states to constitute a committee comprising the wildlife warden, an ecologist and a revenue department official of the area concerned to suggest the requirement of an eco-sensitive zone and its extent.

The panel could also suggest the best methods to manage such zones and broad-based thematic activities to be included in the master plan for the areas, which have been classified as prohibited, restricted with safeguards and permissible.

It also prohibits tourism activities like flying over protected areas in an aircraft or hot air balloon and discharge of effluents and solid waste in natural water bodies or terrestrial areas. Felling of trees, drastic change in agriculture systems and commercial use of natural water resources, including groundwater harvesting and setting up of hotels and resorts are the activities regulated in the areas.

Activities permitted in the areas include ongoing agriculture and horticulture practices by local communities, rainwater harvesting, organic farming, adoption of green technology and use of renewable energy sources.

Observing that many protected areas have already undergone tremendous development in close vicinity of their boundaries and some are actually located in an urban set-up, the Ministry said the width of the ESZ will have to be kept flexible and protected area-specific.

"The width of the Eco-sensitive Zone and type of regulations will differ from protected area to protected area. However, as a general principle the width of eco-sensitive zone could go upto 10 kms around a protected area as provided in the Wildlife Conservation Strategy-2002," it said.


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