When our forests lose out to jungle raj
Environmentalists have launched a battle with miners over the move to reduce the eco-sensitive zone around the Bannerghatta National Park. The plan of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest, which comes only a few months after the environmentalists scored a victory in June with the Mines and Geology Department giving in to their pressure and shutting down mining operations near the park, has come as a bit of a bolt from the blue for the activists, reports Aksheev Thakur
The battle to save the Bannerghatta National Park (BNP) between the ecologists on one side and miners on the other, has become more intense with the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) recently proposing to reduce the eco-senstive zone (ESZ) around it.
The ministry's plan, which comes only months after the environmentalists scored a victory in June with the Mines and Geology department giving in to their pressure and shutting down the mining operations of five companies near the BNP, has come as a bit of a bolt from the blue for the activists. Afraid that all their hard work will come undone, they say the ministry's plans will only succeed in encouraging mining operations that have gone unchecked near the protected sanctuary for two decades.
Tree Doctor, Vijay Nishanth, who has been in the forefront of the fight against the mining and quarrying around the national park, observes that wildlife has returned to the areas of the park where the mining operations were shut in June.
'The Indian bison was seen after three years in these parts. Earlier the forest officials had denied any wrongdoing where the mining operations were concerned, but later the survey found they were being carried out in gross violation of the law. The silence of the forest department confounds me,' he adds with derision.
Mr Nishanth recalls that under the wildlife conservation strategy drawn up at the 21st meeting of the Indian Board for Wildlife in January 2002, land within 10 km of the boundaries of national parks and sanctuaries is required to be notified as an eco fragile zone under section 3(V) of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 and rule 5 sub- rule (VIII) and (X) of the Environment (Protection) rules.
'Also, the National Wildlife Action Plan, 2002-2016, has emphasized that areas outside the protected area network are vital ecological corridor links and must be protected. The decision, however, did not go down well with the states as several developmental projects were badly affected. The National Board for Wildlife in its second meeting held on March 17, 2005, modified the earlier decision and directed that delineation of eco-sensitive zones would have to be site-specific and relate to regulation and not prohibition of specific activities,' he points out, wondering why the board has now done a complete U-turn on the subject.
Convener of United Bengaluru, Suresh NR, warns that reducing the ESZ will have lasting consequences for the city and its people. 'It will reduce Bengalureans' quality of life, especially of those living around BNP,' he laments.
While United Bengaluru has in a letter to the Secretary of MoEF detailed its objections to its new proposal, a senior forest official admits that if the proposal on reducing the eco-sensitive zone is implemented, it will lead to gross environmental damage and a rise in man-animal conflict.
Says Executive Director of Greepeace India, Kshitij Urs, 'This looks like the usual redrawing of forest boundaries. I doubt if the Biodiversity Board was consulted as the 2002 Act clearly says that a tree- tier system should be established with a National Biodiversity Authority at the Centre, and at the state and local level.'
Since the new proposal on the eco-sensitive zone, a PIL has been filed in the Supreme Court challenging it and United Bengaluru and Jhatkaa.org have started an online petition against it.
Eco-laws expose govt's double-speak: Activists
The activists have pointed to the emasculation of environmental laws that reek of double-speak by the government. The National Draft Policy, issued by the Union government early this year, not only failed to recognise the tribal rights but also appeared to have catered to corporate interests.An activist said that on one hand, the government spends a lot on conservation, while on the other, allows razing of large tracts of forests to help corporate.'We have only 16% forest land left. Of which, only 3% is left for wildlife conservation. Why does the government want to take away that 3% as well,' he asked.Even after 12 years, the state government has failed to decide the eco-sensitive areas for three national parksJogimatti Sanctuary, Thimlapura Sanctuary and Yadahalli Chinkara Sanctuary.This compelled the Supreme Court to state in its order, 'Under the circumstances, we direct that an area of 10 km around 21 National Parks and wildlife sanctuaries be declared as ESZ by the MoEFCC. This declaration be made by the ministry at the earliest.'