23 Jan 2014

ECO Sensitive Zones needs Special Care

India is endowed with diverse topographical zones and rich variety of flora and fauna. During the course of industrialisation, urbanisation and other developmental initiatives, lot of changes occur in the landscape which may sometimes become the cause of natural disasters like earthquakes, flash floods, landslides, cloud burst etc.
In order to preserve certain regions/areas bestowed with unique plants, animals, terrains Government has declared them as national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, etc,. Further, to minimise the impact of urbanisation and other developmental activities, areas adjacent to such protected areas have been declared as Eco-Sensitive Zones.
The National Wildlife Action Plan (NWAP) 2002-2016 endeavours to protect areas outside the protected area network to prevent isolation/destruction of fragments of bio-diversity.  However, eco-sensitive zones are delineated to regulate specific activities on site specific basis. 
The Environment (protection) Rules, 1986 states that the Central Government can prohibit and restrict the location of industries and carrying on certain operations or processes on the basis of considerations like biological diversity of an area, maximum allowable limits of concentration of pollutants in an area, environmentally compatible land use and proximity to protected areas.
The purpose of declaring eco-sensitive zones around protected areas is for creating some kind of ‘Shock Absorber’ to the protected area. They would also act as a transition zone from areas of high protection to areas involving lesser protection. The width of eco-sensitive zone and type of regulation vary from one area to another. 
However, as a general principle width of eco-sensitive zone could go up to 10 kms around a protected area. In case of places with sensitive corridors, connectivity and ecologically important patches, crucial for landscape linkage, even area beyond 10 kms width can also be included in the eco-sensitive zone.
The State Governments should emphasise the fact to the public that eco-sensitive zones are not meant to hamper their day-to-day activities, but instead, is meant to protect the precious forests/areas in their locality from any negative impact and also to refine the environment around such protected areas. While some of the activities could be allowed in all the eco-sensitive areas, others will be regulated or prohibited. However, which activity can be regulated or prohibited and to what extent will have to be area specific. 
For instance, activities which fall under the prohibited category include commercial mining, setting up of saw mills, setting up of industries causing pollution, establishment of major hydro electric projects, discharge of effluent and solid waste into natural water bodies or areas, use or production of any hazardous substances,etc.Similarly, activities like felling of tress, establishment of hotels and resorts, widening of roads, protection of river banks and hill slopes,etc comes under regulated category.
A  Zonal Master Plan for the eco-sensitive zone has to be prepared by the State Government within a period of one year from the date of approval by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. The zonal master plan should provide for restoration of denuded areas, conservation of existing water bodies, management of catchment areas, soil and moisture conservation, needs of local community, etc,. which needs attention. 
It should also demarcate  all the existing and proposed urban settlements, village settlements, types and kinds of forest, agricultural areas, green areas, horticultural areas, lakes, etc,. No change of land use from green uses shall be permitted in the zonal master plan except limited conversion of agricultural lands to meet the residential needs of the existing local residents, improvement of roads and bridges, community buildings, without the prior approval of the state government. Pending preparation of the master plan and approval thereof by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, all new constructions can be allowed only after it is approved by the Monitoring Committee constituted by the Central Government.
Protection of eco-sensitive zones has assumed importance in view of the overzealous developmental initiatives in fragile eco systems. A balanced, rational developmental approach is the need of the hour.

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