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Biodiversity & Environment

Eco-Sensitive Zones

  • 30 Nov 2018
  • 8 min read

Last Updated: August 2022

For Prelims: Eco Sensitive Zones, Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986, National Wildlife Action Plan, National Park, Wildlife Sanctuary.

For Mains: Biodiversity and its Conservation, Eco Sensitive Zones- Related Significance, Challenges/Threats and Steps that need to be taken, Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986, National Wildlife Action Plan.

Why in News?

  • Recently, the Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change stated that the Ministry will file a review petition in the Supreme Court urging a relook into its judgment on eco-sensitive zones.
    • In June 2022, 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.
      • The judgment came on a petition instituted for the protection of forest lands in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu.

What are Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs)?

What are the 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.

What is the Significance of ESZs? 

  • Minimise the Impact of Development Activities:
    • To minimize the impact of urbanization and other developmental activities, the areas adjacent to protected areas have been declared as Eco-Sensitive Zones.
  • In-situ Conservation:
    • 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.
  • Minimise Forest Depletion and Man-Animal Conflict:
    • 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.
  • Minimise the Negative Impact on the Fragile Ecosystems:
    • The purpose of declaring eco-sensitive zones around protected areas is to create 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.

What are the Challenges and 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.
    • For exampl- The construction of roads 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 the 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.
  • 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, the pressure of increasing population and the rising demand for firewood and forest produce, etc. exert pressure on the protected areas.

What can be the Way Forward?

  • Promoting Eco Restoration: Afforestation and reforestation of degraded forest, regeneration of lost habitats, reducing climate change impacts by promoting carbon footprints and through education, is needed.
  • Need of Awareness: Conservation techniques, awareness about overexploitation of resources and its adverse impacts should be propagated among masses.
  • Collaboration on Different Levels: Government, civil societies and stakeholders are largely required to collaborate with each other to balance sustainable development with development.
    • 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.

  • Achieving Sustainable Development: The States should act as a trustee for the benefit of the general public in relation to natural resources so that sustainable development can be achieved in the long term.

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