Uttarakhand’s efforts to declare three of its zones as eco-sensitive are in a limbo. The Centre has not cleared any of the names the hill state proposed to be declared under the category for environment conservation.
Top administrators see less chance of the union ministry of forest, environment and climate change (MoEFCC) approving the drafts soon. Uttarakhand is going to assembly polls next year, and decisions on eco-sensitive zones are bound to have a political impact, they say.
It was nearly five years ago that the Centre asked all states to create eco-sensitive zones to restrict development at the cost of environment. The idea was to create a ‘shock absorber’ around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, the December 2011 order said.
Early this year, MoEFCC minister Prakash Javadekar said the country proposed to declare 275 eco-sensitive zones around 404 protected areas. Gujarat got six of its proposals cleared in April, while all other states have drawn a blank so far. Technical issues and resentment from locals as well as political leaders are cited to be the reasons.
Uttarakhand sought eco-sensitive zones for Nandhaur Wildlife Sanctuary, Valley of Flowers National Park and Benog Wildlife Sanctuary. “We submitted the proposals last year, but they were returned, citing technical flaws,” a senior forest officer said. “Also, there’s huge political intervention delaying the entire initiative.”
Yamunotri legislator Pritam Singh Panwar said the state forest department wants green laws not to check installation of basic services. “We support conservation, but not at the cost of development.”
Declaring a zone eco-sensitive implies a ban on commercial or private activity around 10 km of a protected area. “This will deprive people of basic amenities like water supply, power connection and even roads,” said the MLA.
In December 2012, the Centre declared a 100-km stretch from Gaumukh till Uttarkashi as an eco-sensitive zone--without consultation with the state government. If chief minister Harish Rawat was against this move, his predecessor Vijay Bahuguna had written to the Prime Minister to reconsider the demarcation, claiming it was hampering even the region’s road connectivity.
Recently, Rawat told a meeting of the state board for wildlife to present a fresh set of proposals before the cabinet. A committee including the ministers of health and tourism was set up.
“The panel presented the renewed proposals before the Cabinet; they have been approved,” said chief wildlife warden Digvijay Singh Khati. “We are awaiting a written approval from the state government to send the proposals to the Centre for final notification.”