- Recently, the Supreme Court directed that every protected forest, national park and wildlife sanctuary across the country should have a compulsory eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of a minimum one km starting from their demarcated boundaries.
About Eco Sensitive Zone (ESZ)-
- Under the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986,The National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change specified that state governments should declare land falling within 10 km of the boundaries of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries as eco fragile zones or Eco Sensitive Zones (ESZs).
- The motive of declaring ESZs around national parks, forests and sanctuaries is to build some kind of a “shock absorber” for the protected areas.
- These zones would function as a transition zone between areas of high protection and those involving lesser protection.
- Prohibited activities- Commercial mining, saw mills, industries causing pollution, building major hydroelectric projects and commercial use of wood.
- Tourism activities such as hot-air balloons over the National Parks, discharge of effluents or any solid waste or production of hazardous substances.
- Permitted activities- Ongoing agricultural and horticultural practices, organic farming, rainwater harvesting, use of renewable energy sources, adoption of green technology for all activities.
- Regulated activities- Felling of trees, establishment of hotels and resorts, commercial use of natural water, erection of electrical cables, drastic change of agriculture system, for example- adoption of heavy technology, pesticides etc, widening of roads.
Significance of ESZ-
- Minimize the impact of development activities- To reduce the impact of urbanization and other developmental activities, the areas adjoining to protected areas have been declared as Eco-Sensitive Zones.
- In-situ conservation- ESZs assist in in-situ conservation, which deals with conservation of an endangered species in its natural habitat, for instance the conservation of the One-horned Rhino of Kaziranga National Park, Assam.
- Minimize Forest Depletion and Man-Animal Conflict- Eco-Sensitive Zones reduces forest depletion and human-animal conflict.
- The protected areas are formed on the core and buffer model of management, through which local area communities are also protected and benefitted.
Challenges to Eco-Sensitive Zones-
- Developmental activities- Various activities like construction of dams, roads, urban and rural infrastructures in the ESZ, create interference, adversely impact upon the environment and imbalance the ecological system.
- Governance and new laws- The Environmental Protection Act 1986 and the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 avoid forest communities’ rights and fail to prevent poaching of animals.
- Tourism- As the pressure of tourism is increasing, the government is developing new sites and gateways to the ESZ. The tourists leave behind garbage like plastic bags and bottles etc. which lead to environmental degradation.
- Climate change- Biodiversity and climate change are interconnected, for instance, the increase in global temperature has produced land, water and ecological stress on the ESZs.
- Introduction of exotic species.
How are they demarcated?
- The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 does NOT mention the word “Eco-Sensitive Zones”.
- Though, Section 3(2)(v) of the Act, says that Central Government can restrict/ limit areas in which any industries, operations or processes or class of industries, operations or processes shall be carried out or shall not, subject to certain safeguards.
- Under the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986, Rule 5(1) states that central government can prohibit or restrict the location of industries and carrying on certain operations or processes on the basis of certain considerations.
- The same criteria have been used by the government to declare No Development Zones (NDZs).
- It is crucial to consider ESZs on a case-to-case basis instead of giving the same limit for all the protected areas. The declaration of protected areas should be a participative planning process.
- The Centre government needs to come up with a plan to incentivise farmers for sticking to green practices in Eco-Sensitive Zones.
- Communities living around Protected Areas in various states should encourage the conservation of Eco-Sensitive Zones.
- There is a need to review the impacts of the environmental policies at the local level and prospects of local participation.