Despite objections, Bannerghatta National Park’s Eco-Sensitive Zone curtailed
15, Mar 2019
Prelims level : Resource Conservation Mains level :
- Bannerghatta National Park’s Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ), which provides a regulated buffer zone around protected areas, will remain at 168.84 sq.km. despite thousands of citizens formally objecting to the reduction of nearly 100 sq. km. as compared to the original proposal.
- The new ESZ will range from 100 metres (towards Bengaluru) to 1 kilometre (in Ramanagaram district) from the periphery of the protected area. The ESZ Committee estimates that between 150 and 200 elephants were observed at BNP.
Citizens’ opposition ignored
- When the revised Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) notification for Bannerghatta National Park was issued in October 2018, citizens were given 60 days to submit their objections. Environmental and civic action groups swung into action and encouraged people to submit their objections to the Ministry of Environment and Forests against the 100 sq.km. reduction of ESZ.
- Over 65,000 people signed various online petitions against the move, apart from researchers and activists who sent specific objections. The fear of many was that this reduction would lead to more quarrying in the area.
- While thousands of objections were sent to the MoEF, they were dismissed by the ESZ Committee as a ‘safe zone’ of 1km around protected areas is already in place across the country.
Bannerghatta National Park
- The Bannerghatta National Park is located near Bangalore city in Karnataka. It was declared as a national park in 1974. A part of the national park was designated as Bannerghatta Biological Park in 2002. The biological park provides for ex-situ conservation of species. It also has a butterfly park-the first in India.
- The Eco-Sensitive Zone has a minimum extent of 100 metres and maximum extent of up to 4 km from the Park boundary. The objective of notifying Eco-Sensitive Zones is to create a buffer as further protection around Protected Areas (PAs) such as National Parks and Wildlife sanctuaries.
- Buffer Zones are the areas peripheral to a national park or equivalent reserve, where restrictions are placed upon resource use or special development measures are undertaken to enhance the conservation values of the area.
- Many authors agree that the term buffer zone became widely used with the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) program and the Biosphere Reserves (BRs) in the 1970s.
What are ESAs?
- An ecologically sensitive area is one that is protected by the government given the sheer number of species, plants and animals endemic to the region. According to theEnvironment (Protection) Act, 1986, the government can prohibit industrial operations such as mining, sand quarrying and building thermal power plants in sensitive areas.
- The definition offered by the MoEF: “An ecological sensitive area is a bio-climatic unit (as demarcated by entire landscapes) in the Western Ghats wherein human impacts have locally caused irreversible changes in the structure of biological communities (as evident in number/ composition of species and their relative abundances) and their natural habitats.”
- The Western Ghats were declared an ecological hotspot in 1988.
- To categorise an area as ecologically sensitive, the government looks at topography, climate and rainfall, land use and land cover, roads and settlements, human population, biodiversity corridors and data of plants and animal species.
The Kasturirangan committee report
- The MoEF notification is based on findings of a High-Level Working Group, also known as the Kasturirangan committee. The government-appointed committee had said that the natural landscape of the Ghats constitutes only 41 per cent, or which 90 percent or 60,000 square kilometres were identified as ecologically sensitive.
- The committee suggested phasing out current mining projects within five years, or when mining leases were about to expire. It recommended that infrastructure and development projects be subject to environmental clearance, and that villages in ESA be involved in decision making regarding future projects.
- The notification was deemed too environmentally friendly by stakeholder states.
- The Western Ghats was included as a ‘World Natural Heritage Site’ by UNESCO in 2012. According to the organisation, the Ghats, which are older than the Himalayas, are home to at least 325 globally threatened flora, fauna, bird, amphibian, reptile and fish species. It has been recognised as one of the world’s eight ‘hottest hotspots’ of biological diversity.