By Vishwa Mohan
NEW DELHI: Human activities including mining, quarrying or setting up new 'major' hydro-electric projects will not be allowed around areas up to 200 meters from the Khangchendzonga National Park and four wildlife sanctuaries in Sikkim from April.
Union environment ministry has notified these areas as 'eco-sensitive zone' in order to create some kind of "shock absorber" around the identified stretch to protect environment and wildlife.
Besides the lone national park of Sikkim, the other four wildlife sanctuaries which are to be covered under the order include Fambonglho (west of Gangtok), Kyongnosla Alpine and Pangolakha (east district) and Shingba Rhododendron (north district).
The ban order will, however, not affect the ongoing agriculture and horticulture practices, organic farming and cottage industries including village artisans in those identified zones.
The extent of eco-sensitive zone, under the notification, varies from 25 meters to 200 meters from the existing boundary of the national park and sanctuaries, depending on topography of the region and its proximity to international boundaries of Nepal and China.
Issuing the notification on Friday, the ministry of environment and forest sought public opinion on this move within 60 days so that the ministry can look into suggestions and complaints, if any, relating to extent of the eco-sensitive zone during the period. The proposed ban under the order will come into force after expiry of the 60-day deadline.
It is expected that the notification may draw ire of environmentalists who have been demanding earmarking of the 'eco-sensitive zone' up to 10 kilometers from the protected areas under Supreme Court order on perimeter of such stretch.
The apex court's order, however, empowers the state and central government to notify the perimeter of the zone based on scientific assessment, taking into account local factors including livelihood issues of local population.
Though the ministry's order will ban construction of new major hydropower projects and expansion of the big existing projects in the eco-sensitive zones, it will not affect 'micro' hydel power projects (up to 100kw) or 'mini' hydel projects (from 101 to 2000kw) which would serve the energy needs of the local communities in Sikkim.
The notification, however, emphasized that such micro or mini hydel projects would be allowed "subject to consent of the concerned Gram Sabha (village committee) and all other requisite (environmental, forest and other) clearances".
Sikkim has total eight protected areas including one national park and seven wildlife sanctuaries, covering 2,183 sq km area of the state.