The Supreme Court has directed the Union Environment Ministry to declare 10 km area around 21 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the country as ‘eco-sensitive zones’.
A Bench led by Justice Madan B. Lokur took the initiative after its amicus curiae informed the court that the State governments have taken no effort to protect the area around these sanctuaries and parks.
The court recorded that the issue has been pending for the past 12 years.
The parks and sanctuaries are:
Pobitora sanctuary in Assam;
Hemis High Altitude and Kishtewar national parks, Changthang, Hokersar, Trikuta sanctuaries in Jammu and Kashmir;
Jogimatti, Thimlapura and Yadahalli Chinkara sanctuaries in Karnataka;
Deolgaon Rehekuri and Thane Creek Flamingo sanctuaries and the Malvan marine sanctuary in Maharashtra;
Siroi National Park and Khongjaingamba Ching sanctuary in Manipur;
Baghmara Pitcher Plant sanctuary in Meghalaya;
Fakim and Puliebadze and Rangapahar sanctuaries in Nagaland;
Bhimrao Ambedkar bird sanctuary and Pilibhit sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh and
Jorepokhri sanctuary in West Bengal.
Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs) or Ecologically Fragile Areas (EFAs) are areas notified by the MoEFCC around Protected Areas, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.
The purpose of declaring ESZs is to create some kind of “shock absorbers” to the protected areas by regulating and managing the activities around such areas.
They also act as a transition zone from areas of high protection to areas involving lesser protection.
The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 does not mention the word “Eco-Sensitive Zones”.
However, Section 3(2)(v) of the Act, says that Central Government can restrict 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.
Besides Rule 5(1) of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 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).
Defining its boundaries
An ESZ could go up to 10 kilometres around a protected area as provided in the Wildlife Conservation Strategy, 2002.
Moreover, in case where sensitive corridors, connectivity and ecologically important patches, crucial for landscape linkage, are beyond 10 km width, these should be included in the Eco-Sensitive Zones.
Further, even in the context of a particular Protected Area, the distribution of an area of ESZ and the extent of regulation may not be uniform all around and it could be of variable width and extent.