Even as the country is in a state of complete lockdown – the Union Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change has done it again and quietly extended the “Period of Validity” of ESZ Draft Notifications which comes under Environment [Protection] Act 1986 and Environment [Protection] Rules 1986. Till date, only 30 per cent of protected areas [PA] in the country have come under ESZ protection. Environmentalists expressed their horror and said in fact, the validity period should have been reduced to six months.
Now the period of validity of draft notifications relating to Eco-Sensitive Zones [ESZ] and Ecologically Sensitive Areas [ESA] have been increased from 545 to 725 days. As it is, for 136 protected areas across the country, many state governments have not even begun the process of drawing up the ESZ. They include states like Maharashtra, MP, Rajasthan, TN, Assam, J&K, etc.
The MoEF&CC notification dated March 30 says the Clause [d] of Sub Rule 3 of Rule 5 in the Environment [Protection] Rules 1986 accordingly stands amended. “In view of this, now the validity of all existing notifications relating to ESA and ESZ – pending and valid as on the date of publication of the notification (that is 30th April 2020) and subsequent draft notifications will be 725 days,” states Dr Satish C Garkoti, Scientist ‘G’, ESZ division, MoEF&CC.
Last June, in fact, the Centre while making a submission in the Lok Sabha had stated that out of 651 Protected Areas in the country – ESZ finalization has been completed for only 316. As per ESZ rules, once the final notification is issued – many activities like mining, quarrying, stone crushing, major hydroelectric projects, and other harmful activities comes to a total stop. However, draft notifications of nearly 199 PA across the country are still pending for finalization while for another 136 PA – the exercise has not even started due to lot of opposition.
Even as the Supreme Court in 2016 asked the Centre to direct all states to come out with ESZ for protected areas as soon as possible – the exercise for drawing up ESZ has not been taken up by many state governments for one or the other reason. Added to this, many draft notifications have not been finalized for years as either they have lapsed after the validity period’s completion or there is a new revised draft. With elected representatives coming in the way of formation of ESZ for many protected areas – many states have not even taken up the task of forming or drawing up a draft.
Wildlife conservationist, D V Girish from Chikkamagaluru said, “The unnecessary delay in finalization of the draft ESZ defeats the very purpose of providing a buffer zone around the PA. As it is, the process of declaring ESZ is long and drawn out stretching to many years. And if the government itself delays this process, it will aid and abet those activities around PA that are not allowed and are illegal.”
Environmentalist Col Muthanna from Kodagu adds, “In fact, the validity period should have been reduced to six months. The long period may see so many things like – the governments may change, official’s transfer, key bureaucrats gone and MLAs putting spoke and people taking up projects that are disallowed in the ESZ area. We cannot keep dithering as it will cause huge damages to biodiversity and climate change and ultimately further, exacerbate the problem in protected areas.”
Corroborating this Santosh Martin, wildlife conservationist from Ballari opined, “The Validity Period is too long – the finalization has to be done fast as after all, the ESZ acts as a shock absorber and benefit the spilling wildlife population from protected areas to enter human settlements. With rising man-animal conflicts across the country where we have seen leopards and elephants entering villages on forest fringes, the government should have hastened the process of ESZ finalization.”
ESZ STATISTICS AT A GLANCE