The newly constituted wildlife committee’s jurisdiction to recommend projects in and around national parks and sanctuaries has been reduced just before the environment ministry is scheduled to announce eco-sensitive zones in the Western Ghats and some other states.
In a key change, the ministry has decided that the committee will examine the projects in 650 national parks, sanctuaries and the eco-sensitive areas (ESA) around them. Earlier, the committee used to recommend projects within 10 km of the national parks and sanctuaries irrespective of the boundary of the ESA.
The ministry quoted the 2006 Supreme Court order to say the distance of 10 km will get substituted by the boundary limits of the zones for the projects to be considered by the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife to examine projects close to wildlife areas.
This change can speed up project development around national parks and sanctuaries as the average distance the ESA notified around wildlife areas is less than 2 km and in some cases, it is only up to 500 metres.
Goa and Sikkim have asked the environment ministry not to notify the ESA of more than a kilometre around wildlife areas in their states. The ministry has obliged Sikkim by issuing a draft notification of ESA for eight wildlife areas with an average zone of 100 meters. Officials say draft rules prescribing minimal ESA for Goa would be notified soon.
The six states covered by the Western Ghats have also opposed ESA covering huge tracks of land around wildlife areas as suggested by the Kasturirangan Committee.
The committee had recommend one-third of the Western Ghats be declared as ESA but its recommendation was kept in abeyance following protests. Now, the National Green Tribunal has asked the ministry to notify ESA in Western Ghats based on the panel’s recommendations.
The ministry officials admit that majority of the states were not willing to notify 10 km as suggested by the SC. The ministry has to notify ESA after taking the state into confidence as the latter has to enforce the green zone conditions.