Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ)

JUN 6

Mains   > Environment & Ecology   >   Protected area networks   >   Protected Area

IN NEWS:

  • Recently, the Supreme Court 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.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE JUDGEMENT:

  • The top court also directed that no permanent structure will be allowed within the restricted zone.
  • Mining within national wildlife sanctuary or national park will also not be permitted.
  • The court ruled that if the existing ESZ goes beyond 1 km buffer zone or if any statutory instrument prescribes a higher limit, then such extended boundary shall prevail.
  • The court held the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Home Secretaries of States responsible for the compliance of the judgment.
  • The Principal Chief Conservator for each State and the Union Territory has also been directed to make a list of subsisting structures within the ESZs and submit reports to the apex court in three months.
  • The judgment observed that 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 State also has to act as a trustee for the benefit of the general public in relation to the natural resources so that sustainable development could be achieved in the long term.

WHAT ARE ECO-SENSITIVE ZONES?

  • The National Wildlife Action Plan (2002–2016) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) stipulated that state governments should declare land falling within 10 km of the boundaries of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries as eco fragile zones or ESZs under the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • The purpose of the ESZ was to provide more protection to the parks by acting as a shock absorber or transition zone.
  • NATURE OF REGULATION IN ESZs:
    • Prohibited activities:
      • Commercial mining, saw mills, industries causing pollution, 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:

  • To act as shock absorber for protected area:
    • The purpose of declaring eco-sensitive zones around protected areas is for creating some kind of a 'shock absorber' for the protected area.
    • They also act as a transition zone from areas of high protection to areas involving lesser protection.
  • Helps in in-situ conservation
    • EZSz 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.
  • To reduce man-animal conflict:
    • ESZs promotes a mechanism for wildlife-human co-existence >> where conflicts between humans and animals are minimal and the movement of animals is unhindered.
  • Beneficial local communities:
    • It helps to ensure the environmental, economic, and social sustainability of the region, by encouraging wise use of natural and human resources.
    • Designation of ESZs attracts academic and government research activity that addresses local issues and problems.
  • Raise awareness:
    • Designation of an ESZ can raise awareness among local people, citizens, and government authorities on environmental and development issues.
  • To minimize the impact of urbanization on ecology:
    • When areas adjacent to protected areas are declared as ESZs >> it helps to regulate the developmental activities in these areas.

CONCERNS/CRITICISMS ASSOCIATED WITH THE RECENT SC JUDGEMENT:

  • Does not address topographical features:
    • A section of environmentalists criticised that the order has no scientific basis and does not address topographical features.
    • There are several habitat types like mountains, grasslands, forests, oceans. But the order does not mention that.
    • ESZs need to be seen in connection with the topographical features.
    • For example, defining 1 km ESZ for hills and oceans would be very difficult and complex procedure.
      • Also topographical features are not the same everywhere. If we talk about the Sundarbans, the whole area is eco-sensitive.
  • ESZs should be defined considering local conditions:
    • The ESZ guidelines should be implemented considering local conditions.
    • For example, the population density at the national level is 360 people per sq km while it is 860 people per sq km in Kerala. So the implementation of the SC order would affect a larger population as compared to states with low population density.
  • Impact on development and livelihood activities in the villages around protected areas(PA):
    • Mandatory one km Eco sensitive zone (ESZ) for all wildlife sanctuaries and national parks will make human habitations within the prescribed limit as no development zone.
      • One km area around a PA is likely to have low-income housing colonies and livelihood use areas like river floodplains, so the SC order would adversely impact the development and livelihood activities of villages located around the PAs.
  • Need participatory planning exercises to avoid conflicts and protests:
    • Also, declaring ESZs around PAs is a vexed, negotiated and conflicted process.
    • It ideally requires governments to reconcile historical and current land, its uses and rights through a participatory planning exercise.

THREATS TO ECO-SENSITIVE ZONES:

  • 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.
  • Tourism:
    • As the pressure of tourism is rising, the government is developing new sites and gateways to the ESZ.
    • To cater to the increasing demand for eco-tourism, land around parks and sanctuaries is being cleared through deforestation, displacement of local people etc.
    • The tourists leave behind garbage such as plastic bags and bottles etc. which lead to environmental degradation.
  • Introduction of exotic species:
    • Exotic species like Eucalyptus and Acacia auriculiformis etc., and their plantations create a competing demand on naturally occurring forests.
  • 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.
    • For example, forest fires or the Assam floods which badly affected the Kaziranga National Park and its wildlife.
  • 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.

CONCLUSION:

  • In case of protest from local communities regarding the new SC order, the state governments could explore a suggestion in the apex court order, which says that “the minimum width of the ESZ may be diluted in overwhelming public interest but for that purpose the State or Union Territory concerned shall approach the Central Empowered Committee and Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change”
  • As the top court observed in its judgement, the state has to act as a trustee for the benefit of the general public in relation to the natural resources so that sustainable development can be achieved in the long term. Such role of the state is more relevant today, than, possibly at any point of time in history, with the threat of climate catastrophe resulting from global warming looming large.

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. “Eco-sensitive areas need to be protected as they are vulnerable to disturbances due to increasing human activities around them”. Analyse the statement with reference to recent Supreme Court order mandating an eco-sensitive zone of 1 km around every protected forest, national park and wildlife sanctuary.