Sunday, May 28, 2017

Records show shrinking of ESZs finalized before HC stay

| | May 9, 2017, 04.00 AM IST
AHMEDABAD: Even as the Gujarat high court on April 19 had ordered a stay on issuance of final notification by the Centre on declaring the Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) around Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, it has emerged that the Expert Committee on ESZ had already cleared the area reduction of ESZs proposed in Gujarat and recommended them for final notification on April 11.

The committee chaired by Dr Amita Prasad, additional secretary of ministry of environment, forest and climate change, had apparently met on April 11 for the committee's 25th meeting in New Delhi. Minutes of the meeting show that the Eco-Sensitive Zone revisions had been cleared and sent for final notification.

Sources in the Union MoEF ministry said the April 11 meeting had cleared the revised proposals for Nalsarovar, Hingolgarh and Porbandar wildlife sanctuaries, besides the revision for Gir ESZ, following a proposal forwarded by the state government.

Sources in the ministry said that the April 11 meeting had been convened for taking up just one proposal of Maharashtra and eight proposals of Gujarat.

The other two proposals that were cleared included finalizing the ESZ limits of Barda and Velavadar wildlife sanctuaries. The ESZ expert committee shrunk the revised ESZ for Gir by increasing the near limit from 0 km to 0.5 km and slashing the far limit from 17.9 km to 9.4 km.

The committee had also reconsidered and cleared the revised proposal for Nalsarovar, Hingolgarh and Porbandar wildlife sanctuaries while it rejected the revision proposal for Gaga wildlife sanctuary and Khijadia wildlife sanctuary.

Ironically, the ESZ committee in its meetings held between October 19 and October 29, 2016, had already approved all these proposals for final notification.

The minutes of the April 11 meeting, while clearing the proposal for Gir, reads, "The Chairperson pointed out that the Gir Sanctuary possesses high visibility and has international recognition and therefore, optimization of the extent (ESZ boundaries) proposed by the state should not adversely affect the biodiversity of the protected area."

"However, the Chairperson emphasized to maintain minimum distance of 500 metre where zero extent is proposed and map to be revised accordingly," the minutes mention.

"After deliberations, the Committee recommended the proposal for final notification subject to submission of revised map with minimum distance of 500 metre so as to have minimum adverse effect," record the minutes.

Sources said that curiously the final gazette notification for the five proposals of Nalsarovar, Khijadia, Hingolgarh, Porbander and Gaga were not printed in the Gazette even as they were cleared in the meeting in October last year.

The publication of notification regarding ESZs around Gujarat's sanctuaries may have been stalled at the behest of Gujarat government, which therafter shrunk ESZ boundaries in almost all important sanctuaries, said sources.

The final gazette notification for majority of the sanctuaries from other states that were cleared in October, were published soon. For example, the final notification for Bir Shikargarh Wildlife Sanctuary in Haryana, cleared in the October 2016 meeting, was printed in the gazette on November 23, 2016.

Different yardsticks

Officials pointed out that the ESZ expert committee seemed to have different yardsticks for similar issues. In the proposal for Gir Sanctuary, while excluding the gramtal of Talala from ESZ, the committee accepted the argument: "In case of Talala town; the Gamtal (areas of villages) have been kept outside the ESZ for local development needs."

But in the same meeting. while taking up reconsideration for Khijadia, it declined to exclude one village citing that need for local development of the area was already addressed in the ESZ notification. "Therefore, the committee was of the view that the proposal which was earlier recommended shall remain same for final notification," the committee said, thus rejecting the change proposed by the state government.

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