Centre relaxes ecologically sensitive zone policy for sanctuaries, national parks
In a move which is likely to weaken the protection offered to sanctuaries and national parks, the Union environment ministry has tweaked the procedure for environmental clearances of developmental activities in their buffer zone.
In an office memorandum (OM) issued on August 8, 2019 the ministry has said that projects located outside the boundary of ecologically sensitive zone (ESZ) or in parks where ESZ hasn’t been notified, prior clearance from the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) will not be required. Such proposals will only be dealt with by the expert appraisal committee (EAC) during appraisal for environmental clearance and “appropriate conservation measures in the form of recommendations will be made,” the OM states.
Projects located within the notified Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZ) will be regulated as specified under ESZ notification. But many sanctuaries do not have an ESZ of 10 km as specified by SC. Some sanctuaries and national parks have a buffer zone as small as 1 km radius around the park. For example, Jim Corbett National Park has not notified its ESZ. In its draft notification only a buffer of 1 km has been provided for. So as per the new OM, only projects within that 1 km will need prior clearance from the NBWL which can be obtained simultaneously when applying for environmental clearance.
The OM nullifies previous OMs dated February 27, 2007 and December 2, 2009 which had stated that NBWL nod is mandatory for projects within 10 km radius.
The Wildlife Conservation Strategy of 2002 had stated that states need to declare a buffer of 10 km around sanctuaries. The SC had also upheld the policy.