By Akash Vashishtha
The NDA government might have announced to notify the eco-sensitive zones (ESZ) around all protected wildlife areas by the end of November, but the limit of such reserved zones has been minimal.
The Centre wants to have minuscule limits of as low as 25-200 metres in most of the national parks and sanctuaries.
The environment ministry — in its draft notifications of 17 protected areas issued consecutively over the last 11 months — has confined the eco-sensitive extent of 11 wildlife zones up to 200 metres in contrast to its own standard guidelines of having 10 km as eco-fragile zones around a protected area under the Wildlife Conservation Strategy 2002, an extent that was later endorsed by the Supreme Court.
As per the apex court’s orders, a 10-km limit was to be treated as the ESZs until there’s a notification by the Centre.
The eco-sensitive zone of the Bir Bhadson Wildfire Sanctuary, one of the largest protected areas in Patiala, Punjab, as per the draft notification issued on June 17, has been confined to mere 100 m.
The sanctuary, besides having a good deciduous forest cover, is a rich habitat to porcupines, peafowls, parakeets and doves.
Similarly, the Kaimur Wildlife Sanctuary in Bihar is likely to be notified with an ESZ between 0-2 km. The Dadra and Nagar Haveli Wildlife Sanctuary, whose draft notification was issued on January 2, also has an ESZ of just 100 m despite the area being rich in faunal biodiversity.
The Pranahita Wildlife Sanctuary in Telangana, a rich habitat of blackbucks, is also proposed to have an ESZ between 0.1 and 5 km.
The Bhitarkanika National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, an internationally protected Ramsar Site in Odisha, is also likely to be notified with an eco-fragile zone of 0-2 km.
As per the draft notification for the area, released on November 27 last year, “…the protected area having estuarine, marine ecosystem is highly productive ecosystem. The rich biodiversity can be judged from the presence of species diversity having 61 species of invertebrates… birds of more than 280 species, mammals of 28 species, including crustaceans”.
“The biodiversity of mangroves in the national park area is one of the highest, having 71 species of mangroves… the Bhitarkanika area has the largest natural population of estuarine crocodile and is known for its reptilian diversity. It also has the largest heronry in Asia, which is an annual activity during monsoon,” the draft notification itself states.
The eco-sensitive limit of the Khangchendzonga National Park in Sikkim, as per a draft notification is just between 25- 200 m.
The national park, besides being rich habitat to trans-Himalayan biota, has 19 glaciers.
The park is itself stated in the notification to have “124 species of mammals, 300 of birds, 10 of reptiles, 5 of amphibians, 8 of fishes and 400 of butterfly”.
The eco-fragile extent of the Kitam bird sanctuary, harbouring common leopard, barking deer, Chinese pangolin, Indian peafowl, great hill barbet and Indian pied hornbill, among others, has also been confined to mere 25 meters.
While the limit of Shingba has been kept between 25 and 50 m, the ministry has kept the limit of Maenam sanctuary also between 25-50 m.
A limit of 25 m is kept for Fambongiho, while Barsey sanctuary the proposal is 25-50 m.
A limit of 25-50 m has been kept for Pangolakha sanctuary in Sikkim. Only in Chandaka Dampara sanctuary in Odisha, the limit ranges between 500m-8.99 km.
According to wildlife experts, the eco-sensitive zone, under which development activities and land use are regulated, is vital to protect the ecosystems.
It, however, ensures livelihoods and allows effective planning and conservation of the area.
Wildlife lawyer Sanjay Upadhyay said: “The entire exercise of the ministry is based on convenience and not on ecological science. The convenience is for a handful of people and is in defiance of larger public interest. What is the scientific evidence of concluding the limiting of the spillover to 50 m?”
Former National Board for Wildlife member Prerna Bindra said: “ESZs must be identified judiciously after taking into account crucial wildlife corridors and landscapes. The worry is that considerations other than ecological are dictating ESZs.” Photos.