The environment ministry is in a dock over a Supreme Court committee's recommendation of diluting safe homes for wildlife around 668 national parks and sanctuaries and paving a way for more developmental activity.
The ministry had asked the state governments to notify 10 kms around national parks and sanctuary as eco-sensitive zones (ESZ) in January 2011 but most state governments had been reluctant as such a notification would have restricted developmental activity around the wildlife zones.
Terming the delay in finalizing the zones as a reason for its recommendations, the Supreme Court appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) has divided national parks and sanctuaries into four categories depending on their respective area and recommended eco-sensitive zones for each category.
The CEC has brought the limit of eco-sensitive zones from 10 kms to maximum of two kms for category A national parks having area of more than 500 sq kms. Only 73 of 668 parks fall under this category.
For category B, parks with an area between 200 sq kms to 500 sq kms, the zone will be one kms. As many as 115 parks fall under this category.
In case of category C, with 85 parks between 100 to 200 sq kms, the CEC has suggested that the zones should be up to 500 meters. In D category parks, where majority of parks (346) having area less than 100 sq kms, the eco sensitive zone will be up to 100 meters.
"The suo moto recommendations of the CEC are neither on the directions of the Supreme Court nor with any legal jurisdiction, fraught with several legal infirmities and thus not acceptable," said wildlife conservationists in a letter to environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan.
The court had asked the environment ministry to submit an affidavit with respect to the CEC recommendations. Ministry officials say the CEC's formula would kill the concept of eco-sensitive zones and said accepting the recommendations would be "difficult".
However, the officials agreed that the states governments were reluctant to declare the zones because of huge mining activity around the parks.
In Kaziranga and Corbett national parks, mining is allowed within 10 kms of the park's boundary and state governments have not been able to stop the mining despite repeated instructions from the ministry.
The recommendations, if accepted will allow any sort of industrial activity outside the smaller eco-sensitive zones, says wildlife conservationists.
Major thermal power plants, steel units, aluminum refineries and mines would be established beyond a mere 100 meters of some parks which would be a certain disaster for the wildlife habitats and corridors, they added.
The permission of the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife would be required for mining in the eco-sensitive zones.