Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ)

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    • Recently, the Supreme Court (SC) indicated it may consider taking up Kerala’s review of the SC’s judgment to have a one-km eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) ringing protected forests, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the country.

    About

    • Earlier Judgement of SC:
      • The SC had directed that every protected forest, national park and wildlife sanctuary across the country should have a mandatory eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of a minimum one km starting from their demarcated boundaries.
      • A three-judge Bench highlighted how the nation’s natural resources have been for years ravaged by mining and other activities.
      • The government should not confine its role to that of a facilitator of economic activities for the immediate upliftment of the fortunes of the State.
      • The court held that in case any national park or protected forest already has a buffer zone extending beyond one km, that would prevail. 
      • In case the question of the extent of buffer zone was pending a statutory decision, then the court’s direction to maintain the one-km safety zone would be applicable until a final decision is arrived at under the law.
      • The court directed that mining within the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries shall not be permitted.
    • Kerala’s Review Petition:
      • The review by Kerala has argued that the judgment would lead to massive displacement of people living in the vicinity of forest areas.
      • Even worse, the judgment would strip thousands of Scheduled Tribe families and forest dwellers of their vested rights under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006.
      • Large number of small and medium townships with human habitations and attendant facilities had developed, decades ago, within the vicinity of the protected areas and within the proposed buffer zone of one km.

    Eco Sensitive Zone (ESZ)

    • These are areas in India notified by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), GoI around Protected Areas, National Park and Wildlife sanctuaries. 
    • Purpose: 
      • To create some kind of “shock absorbers” to the protected areas by regulating and managing the activities around such areas. 
      • Therefore, these areas act as a buffer for protected areas and reduce developmental pressures around a wildlife sanctuary or national park.
      • They also act as a transition zone from areas of high protection to areas involving lesser protection.
    • Range:
      • All identified areas around Protected Areas and wildlife corridors to be declared as ecologically fragile under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (National Wildlife Action Plan, 2002-2016).
      • Eco-sensitive Zone could go upto 10 Kms around Protected Areas
      • In cases where sensitive corridors, connectivity and ecologically important patches, crucial for landscape linkage, are even beyond 10 Kms width
      • Further, Eco-sensitive zones may not be uniform all around and it could be variable width and extent.
    • Prohibited activities: 
      • Activities like industries which cause pollution Commercial mining, saw mills, establishment of major hydroelectric projects (HEP), commercial use of wood, Tourism, discharge of effluents or any solid waste or production of hazardous substances are all prohibited.
    • Regulated activities:
      • Activities like felling of trees, establishment of hotels and resorts, commercial use of natural water, erection of electrical cables, drastic change of agriculture system, e.g. adoption of heavy technology, pesticides etc., widening of roads.
    • Permitted activities:
      • Activities like ongoing agricultural or horticultural practices, rainwater harvesting, organic farming, use of renewable energy sources, adoption of green technology for all activities are permitted.

    Significance of Eco Sensitive Zone (ESZ)

    • ESZs help in in-situ conservation, which deals with conservation of an endangered species in its natural habitat. For example, the conservation of the One-horned Rhino of Kaziranga National Park, Assam.
    • They minimize forest depletion and man-animal conflict
    • The protected areas are based on the core and buffer model of management, through which local area communities are also protected and benefitted.

    Challenges to ESZ

    • Developmental activities:
      • Activities such as construction of dams, roads, urban and rural infrastructures in the ESZ, create interference, negatively impact upon the environment and imbalance the ecological system. 
    • Blatant violations:
      • To cater to the increasing demand for eco-tourism, land around parks and sanctuaries is being cleared through deforestation, displacement of local people etc. 
      • Failing to recognize the rights of forest communities and curbing poaching of animals, environmental legislations undermine the ESZs in favour of developmental activities. 
    • Climate change:
      • Biodiversity and climate change are interconnected, for example, the rise in global temperature has generated land, water and ecological stress on the ESZs. 
    • Tourism related Pollution:
      • As the pressure of tourism is rising, the government is developing new sites and gateways to the ESZ. The tourists leave behind garbage such as plastic bags and bottles etc. which lead to environmental degradation.
    • Local communities:
      • Slash and burn techniques used in agriculture, pressure of increasing population and the rising demand for firewood and forest produce, etc. exerts pressure on the protected areas.

    Way Ahead

    • The Centre needs to come up with a plan to incentivise farmers for sticking to green practices in Eco Sensitive Zones (ESZs).
    • Communities living around Protected Areas in several states should promote conservation of Eco Sensitive Zones (ESZs).
    • There is a need for rethinking on the impacts of the environmental policies at the local level and prospects of local participation.

    Source: TH