Development of Zonal Master Plans for Eco-sensitive Zones of the Protected Areas.
Why are Eco-Sensitive Zones created?
According to the guidelines issued by the Environment Ministry on February 9, 2011, ESZs are created as “shock absorbers” for the protected areas, to minimize the negative impact on the “fragile ecosystems” by certain human activities taking place nearby. Furthermore, these areas are meant to act as a transition zone from areas requiring higher protection to those requiring lesser protection. The basic aim is to regulate certain activities around National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries so as to minimise the negative impacts of such activities on the fragile ecosystems encompassing the protected areas. Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs) have been identified and notified by the Indian Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) since 1989. Notifications declaring areas as ESAs are issued under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986. The clauses of the EPA which allow for the notification of ESAs hold the possibility of realizing landscape-level conservation
Activities Allowed in ESZs
Eco-sensitive zones are open to development and allied activities however the activities taking place in ESZ are regularised. Those activities that are found to have deleterious impact on the protected areas are prohibited, those whose effect is not extremely harmful are allowed but regulated while certain activities are allowed. Given below is a gist of activities falling in all the three categories discussed above.
- Prohibited activities:
Commercial mining, saw mills, industries causing pollution (air, water, soil, noise etc), establishment of major hydroelectric projects (HEP), commercial use of wood, Tourism activities like hot-air balloons over the National Park, discharge of effluents or any solid waste or production of hazardous substances.
- Regulated activities:
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:
Ongoing agricultural or horticultural practices, rainwater harvesting, organic farming, use of renewable energy sources, adoption of green technology for all activities.
Significance of ESZs
The significance of ESZ has been briefly discussed below:
- In order to minimise the impact of urbanisation and other developmental activities, areas adjacent to protected areas have been declared as Eco-Sensitive Zones.
- The purpose of declaring eco-sensitive zones around protected areas is for creating a ‘Shock Absorber’ for the protected area.
- They also act as transition zones from areas of high protection to areas involving lesser protection.
- ESZs help in in-situ conservation, which deals with conservation of an endangered species in its natural habitat.
- Eco-Sensitive Zones minimise forest depletion and helps mitigate man-animal conflict.
Challenges and Threats to Eco-Sensitive Zones
There are a number of challenges and threats to ESZs, at the forefront are developmental activities especially those involving degradation of natural resources around the PAs. Activities such as construction of dams, roads, urban and rural infrastructures in the ESZ, create interference, negatively impact upon the environment and creates an imbalance of the ecological system. For example, construction of road would lead to cutting down of trees which would further impact upon, soil erosion thereby destroying the habitats of the species preserved under the ESZ.
Zonal Master Plans for ESZs
The Scenario in India
At a time when polluting industries like cement plants and mining projects are being pushed in the notified eco-sensitive zones (ESZ) of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks and tiger corridors, most of the states are yet to prepare and notify Zonal Master Plans (ZMPs), which regulates these detrimental units.
A Zonal Master Plan for the Eco-sensitive Zone is supposed to be prepared by the State Government within a period of one year from the date of publication of this notification in the Official Gazette and submitted for approval to the Central Government in the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.
It is mandatory for the state governments to prepare Zonal Master Plans(ZMP) for ESZ as per the MoEFCC guidelines. The ZMP is prepared in consultation with local people within two years from the date of ESZ notification in the official gazette. “The purpose of making the zonal plan is to regulate the developmental activities in the region in such a way that it ensures environmental and ecological protection of the entire endangered area.