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Home / India News / Rules eased for clearance of projects near buffer zone

Rules eased for clearance of projects near buffer zone

Projects located within the notified ESZ will require the NBW’sL nod, which can be applied for together with the initial “terms of reference” application.

india Updated: Aug 17, 2019 22:31 IST
Jayashree Nandi
Jayashree Nandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The Wildlife Conservation Strategy of 2002 recommends a buffer of 10 km around sanctuaries. The SC had upheld the policy and directed states and the Centre on several occasions to enforce the ESZ.
The Wildlife Conservation Strategy of 2002 recommends a buffer of 10 km around sanctuaries. The SC had upheld the policy and directed states and the Centre on several occasions to enforce the ESZ.(HT image)
         

In a move that is likely to weaken the protection offered to wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, the Union environment ministry has tweaked the procedure for environmental clearances of developmental activities in the buffer zone, an area that is supposed to reinforce conservation of protected areas.

An office memorandum (OM) on August 8, 2019, published on the environment ministry website, said that projects outside the boundary of the notified eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of a sanctuary or national park but within 10 km radius of the park will not need prior clearance from the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL).

Such proposals will now get environmental clearance from the ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC), which will ensure “appropriate conservation measures in the form of recommendations will be made,” the memorandum said. It nullifies previous OMs dated February 27, 2007 and December 2, 2009, which made the NBWL’s approval mandatory for projects within a 10 km radius of the park.

Projects located within the notified ESZ will require the NBW’sL nod, which can be applied for together with the initial “terms of reference” application. Mining will be prohibited within the notified ESZ or within only one km from the boundary of the park, whichever is higher according to the new OM.

But in many states, protected areas do not have an ESZ of 10 km as specified by the Supreme Court. Some have a buffer zone of a few hundred metres to one-km radius, while other states still have not notified an ESZ. In cases where the ESZ notification is in the draft stage, a nod from NBWL is needed and can be applied for along with environmental clearance.

For example, the Jim Corbett National Park has not notified its ESZ, but its draft notification provides a buffer of 1 km, while Bandipur Tiger Reserve has notified an ESZ of 7.7 km radius. ESZ for other tiger reserves like Nagarhole, Biligiriranga Temple Sanctuary and Ranthambore haven’t been notified.

The Wildlife Conservation Strategy of 2002 recommends a buffer of 10 km around sanctuaries. The SC had upheld the policy and directed states and the Centre on several occasions to enforce the ESZ .

“This completely defeats the purpose of recognising 10 km around protected areas as areas that need to be recognised for their conservation value. It also reads down the importance of ensuring wildlife related scrutiny at the time of environment clearances,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher, Centre for Policy Research.

“This is not a simplification. With ESZ notification, the no-go area is notified by the states. If it clearly says 1 km or 2 km, why should all projects within 10 km radius come to NBWL? Out of 600-odd protected areas, 200 have notified ESZs, the rest will still go to NBWL. This will push other states to notify ESZs soon,” said CK Mishra, secretary, environment ministry.

“The SC in its September 2017 order, in the context of reduction of 10 km ESZ to 100m, had strongly observed {that}…since an order of this nature is capable of destroying national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the country, we would like to examine the validity of this reduction. Prima facie, it appears to us a complete arbitrary exercise of powers by the ministry of environment and forest’. The real worry therefore is that ESZs around parks and sanctuaries may not achieve the envisioned goal of acting as shock absorbers and protection of corridors,” said Praveen Bhargav of the Bengaluru-based Wildlife First, a conservation advocacy group.