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Eco-Sensitive Zones of Western Ghats

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June 24, 2024

Why in news?

Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa seek shrinking of eco-sensitive areas in Western Ghats.

What are Eco-Sensitive Zones?

  • Conception – The concept of ESZ was conceived during the XXI meeting of the Indian Board for Wildlife held in 2002, when the Wildlife Conservation Strategy, 2002 was adopted.
  • The National Wildlife Action Plan (NWAP) (2002-2016) indicated that ‘Areas outside the protected area network are often vital ecological corridor links and must be protected to prevent isolation of fragments of bio-diversity which will not survive in the long run.
  • National Environment Policy (2006) has defined the ESZ.
  • Definition – An areas/zones with identified environmental resources having incomparable values which require special attention for their conservation” because of its landscape, wildlife, biodiversity, historical and natural values.
  • Declaration – They are declared by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) as per the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • Coverage – The lands falling within 10kms of the boundaries of national parks and sanctuaries should be notified as eco-fragile zones under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • While the 10-km rule is implemented as a general principle, the extent of its application can vary.
  • Areas beyond 10-km can also be notified by the Union government as ESZs, if they hold larger ecologically important “sensitive corridors.”  
  • PurposeProtect environment and avoid its degradation due to anthropogenic activities.
  • Create some kind of barrier/ shock absorber for the specialized ecosystem (PAs).
  • Act as transition zone from areas of higher protection to areas involving lesser protection.
  • Objective – To maintain the response level of an ecosystem within the permissible limits w.r.t environmental parameters.
  • To notify the area as an Eco- sensitive zone and to regulate the developmental activities in a sustainable manner taking into consideration the needs and aspiration of the local people.
  • Salient features of ESZ – The ESZ Notification captures the following features:
    • Brief on the Protected Area
    • Area of ESZ and Extent of ESZ (Minimum and Maximum)
    • Available Flora, Fauna [Including Endemic, Rare, Endangered and Threaten (RET) species]
    • Boundary Description of ESZ
    • Maps of the ESZ
    • Geo-coordinates of prominent locations of PA and ESZ  along with Shape/ KML files
    • List of villages along with Geo-co-ordinates
    • General guideline on Zonal Master Plan
    • Measures to be taken by the State Government
  • Prohibited and Regulated Activities along with Promoted Activities
  • Details of Monitoring Committee
  • It does not involve displacement and evacuation of farmers/people living in the villages.

          ESZ

What are the Prohibited, Regulated and Permitted activities in ESZs?

Prohibited activities

  • Commercial mining, but it will not prohibit the digging of earth for construction for repair of houses and for manufacture of country tiles or bricks for personal consumption.
  • Setting of saw mills
  • Setting of industries causing pollution (water, air, soil, noise etc)
  • Commercial use of firewood
  • Establishment of major hydroelectric projects
  • Use or production of any hazardous substances
  • Undertaking activities related to tourism like over-flying the National Park area by any aircraft, hot-air balloons
  • Discharge of effluent and solid waste in natural water bodies or terrestrial area.

Regulated activities

  • Felling of trees
  • Establishment of hotels
  • Drastic change of agriculture systems
  • Commercial use of natural water resources including ground water harvesting
  • Erection of electrical cables be regulated while underground cabling should be promoted
  • Fencing of premises of hotels and lodges
  • Use of polythene bags by shopkeepers
  • Widening of roads should be done with proper EIA and mitigation measures
  • Movement of vehicular traffic at night for commercial purpose
  • Introduction of exotic species
  • Protection of hill slopes and river banks
  • Air and vehicular pollution
  • Sign boards & hoardings.

Permitted activities

  • Ongoing agriculture and horticulture practices by local communities.
  • However, excessive expansion of some of these activities should be regulated as per the master plan.
  • Rain water harvesting
  • Organic farming
  • Use of renewable energy sources
  • Adoption of green technology

Why Western Ghats is important?

  • Western Ghats – They are mountain ranges that runs parallel to the western coast of the Indian peninsula, located entirely in India.
  • Coverage – It extends along six states of India.
  • They are Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

                   WesternGhats

  • Biodiversity – It has over 7,402 species of flowering plants, 1,814 species of non-flowering plants, 139 mammal species, 508 bird species, 179 amphibian species, 6,000 insects species and 290 freshwater fish species.
  • Measures – Gadgil and Kasturirangan commitee were appointed to identify the areas that needed to be kept out from such activities.
  • The Kasturirangan panel – It had identified 37% of the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive and recommended prohibition or regulation of certain activities.
  • Gadgil Commission - The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) also known as the Gadgil Commission has designated the entire hill range as an ESA.
  • Recognition – It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the eight "hot-spots" of biological diversity in the world.

What are the major concerns in declaring ESZs?

  • Development Restrictions – Limits on construction, infrastructure projects, and industrial activities can hinder economic growth and development in the region.
  • Livelihood Impact – Restrictions can affect local communities, particularly those dependent on land and natural resources for their livelihoods, such as agriculture, forestry, and mining.
  • Property Rights – Landowners may face limitations on how they can use or develop their property, potentially leading to conflicts and disputes.
  • Economic Loss – Potential loss of revenue for state and local governments due to reduced industrial and commercial activities.
  • Implementation Challenges – Ensuring effective enforcement of ESA regulations can be difficult, requiring substantial resources and coordination among various government agencies.
  • Balancing Conservation and Development – Finding a middle ground that protects the environment while allowing for necessary development is often challenging. 

What lies ahead? 

  • Implement a zoning system – Designates specific areas for conservation, sustainable agriculture, limited development, and urbanization.
  • This helps in managing human activities while protecting critical ecosystems.
  • Involve community participation – They should be allowed to participate in conservation planning and decision-making.
  • Empower them with knowledge and resources to manage natural resources sustainably.
  • Promote economic diversification – This will reduce dependency on activities of local communities that harm the environment.
  • Develop alternative livelihood opportunities, such as eco-tourism, agroforestry, and handicrafts.
  • Strengthen the legal and policy framework – Enforce existing environmental laws and regulations, and update them to address emerging challenges.

References

  1. The Indian Express| Plans to Reduce ESZ in Western Ghats
  2. MoEFCC| Eco Sensitive Zones (ESZ)
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