Of the 526 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, the environment ministry has been able to provide a protective buffer zone, called ecologically sensitive zones (ESZs), to only 26 so far.
According to the national wildlife policy, each of these wildlife zones was to have a protective zone around it, where polluting and detrimental activities would be restricted.
The ESZ is based on the principles of providing sanctity to protected areas and strengthening the buffer zones and corridors around such areas.
All forms of infrastructure projects of commercial or public purpose, including mining, industries and hydro-power projects, are prohibited within such zones, according to the ministry guidelines.
But data from the Union environment ministry show only 26 such ESZs have been formally notified so far.
On Tuesday, the environment ministry notified an ESZ around Okhla Bird Sanctuary in Noida, which has caught public attention because it impacted thousands of home buyers in the country’s capital. But the vast majority of such proposals for other national parks and wildlife parks are still in limbo.
According to a 2006 Supreme Court order, all states and Union Territories were required to send proposals detailing the site-specific geographical extent of ESZs around environmentally protected areas falling within their boundaries.
Data from the ministry show 452 proposals have been sent so far. The highest number of proposals has been received from Madhya Pradesh followed by Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. All UTs other than Andaman and Nicobar have proposed one zone each. Larger states have on an average, proposed higher number of zones.
Of those, which have been notified till date, most fall in four states — Gujarat, Goa, Sikkim and Odisha. Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have one zone each notified.
Several states such as Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Goa have consistently raised concerns about creating ESZs. Based on such complaints the Union government consistently asked for site-specific proposals. According to Supreme Court orders, unless site-specific ESZs are declared a 10-km area around each of these wildlife zones is treated as an ESZ. But despite repeated deadlines the states failed to submit their proposals.
While the states themselves have played truant in sending proposals within stipulated time, the slow pace by the ministry too cast a shadow on the project. Officials suggest that procedural complexities were primarily to be blamed for the delays.
Guidelines issued in 2011 said a committee, comprising a field staff of the forest, revenue and panchayati raj departments and an ecologist — would identify an ESZ. The chief wildlife warden of the state was required to send these to the environment ministry.
However, the number of zones being notified shot up after the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government came to power in May last year. In fact, 18 of the 26 ESZs were notified after NDA took over, though critics complained that in some cases ESZs were demarcated keeping industrial and polluting industries safe from restrictions, such as in the case of Sikkim. This has elicited concerned responses from different quarters and allegations of arbitrary and hurried decision making in the process.