- Recently, the tribal communities have been protesting against the Centre’s notification classifying 121 villages around the Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Narmada district as eco-sensitive zones.
- Land belonging to the eco-sensitive zone should be used for agriculture use only and cannot be used for commercial, industrial and residential purpose.
- Any land can be transferred only after approval from the state government and process has been initiated to include the state government as the co-owner of the land.
- Formation of the Statue of Unity has left tribals in a state of mistrust and fear that government could dilute the power vested with villagers under the Panchayat (Extension of Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, implemented in areas notified under Schedule V of the Constitution.
Panchayat (Extension of Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996
- In 1995, based on the report of the Bhuria Committee, the Parliament enacted the PESA to extend Part IX of the Constitution with certain modifications and exceptions to the Schedule V areas.
- Article 243M of the Constitution exempts the Fifth Schedule areas from Part IX of the Constitution.
- It provides that Parliament may by law extend its provisions to the Scheduled and Tribal Areas subject to such exceptions and modifications as may be specified in such law and no such law shall be deemed to be an amendment to the Constitution.
- The Ministry of Panchayati Raj is the nodal Ministry for implementation of the provisions of PESA in the States.
- At present Scheduled V areas exist in 10 States. viz. Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan and Telangana.
- The eco-sensitive zones are the area around protected areas including a wildlife sanctuary, national parks and tiger reserves- up to 10 km.
- They are envisaged as a cushion or shock absorbers for protected areas and provide transition zones from high protection area to low protection area.
- They are notified by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) under Environment Protection Act, 1986.
- Activities under Eco-sensitive zones are divided into 3 categories:
- Prohibited such as: Commercial mining, tourism activities, Industries, etc.
- Restricted with safeguards: tree cutting, the establishment of hotels and resorts, etc.
- Permissible: organic farming, the use of green and renewable energy sources and technologies, etc.
Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary
- It is located in the Narmada district of Gujarat.
- It is located in the western Satpura Range south of the Narmada River.
- The sanctuary was first declared a protected area in 1982.
- It was called the ‘Dumkhal Sanctuary’ and was created especially for the protection of sloth bears.
- It shares a common boundary with Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Activities Allowed in ESZs
- 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
- 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 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.
- 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.
- Eco-Sensitive Zones minimise 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 and Threats to Eco-Sensitive Zones
- 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.
- 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.
Governance and new laws:
- By failing to recognize the rights of forest communities and curbing poaching of animal, legislations like Environmental Protection Act 1986, and Wildlife Protection Act 1972, undermine the ESZs in favour of developmental activities.
- For example – the new draft notification for reducing the ESZs of Bannerghatta National Park.
- 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.
- 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.