Bannerghatta National Park’s Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ), which provides a regulated buffer zone around protected areas, will remain at 168.84 sq.km. despite thousands of citizens formally objecting to the reduction of nearly 100 sq. km. as compared to the original proposal.
In the 33rd ESZ Expert Committee meeting of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) held on February 28, members recommended finalisation after ‘detailed deliberations’ of the November 5 draft notification which declared an ESZ area of 168.84 sq.km. around BNP.
As reported previously this represents a 37% reduction from the first draft notification issued in 2016 which had marked an ESZ area of 268.9 sq.km.
The new ESZ will range from 100 metres (towards Bengaluru) to 1 kilometre (in Ramanagaram district) from the periphery of the protected area. The ESZ Committee estimates that between 150 and 200 elephants were observed at BNP.
During the meeting, members of the expert committee discussed extending the area of the proposed ESZ towards Bengaluru city. “However, representative of the State cited that it will be difficult to further expand ESZ due to thick habitation in the adjoining areas,” as per the minutes of the meeting which were made public recently.
Thousands of comments were sent to the MoEF from the city after the draft notification was published in November.
S.K. Malkhede, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), who represented Karnataka in the meeting, said a majority of these comments pertained to quarrying activities. “There is a Supreme Court ruling prohibiting quarrying and mining activities within 1km of a protected areas irrespective of the ESZ distance. Since this safe zone is applicable, the objections couldn’t hold,” he said.
MoEF accepted the State government’s position, which is derived from a cabinet sub-committee formed to look into delineation of ESZs in 31 protected areas of the State. In 2015, the State government approved the sub-committee report that reduced ESZ in multiple areas as it ‘may hinder developmental activity’ and was ‘opposed by locals’.
Surprisingly, multiple objections were sent to the committee seeking a further reduction in the ESZ. These objections were dismissed, said Mr. Malkhede.
“It may take another three months or so for the final ESZ notification to be published,” he said.
When the revised Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) notification for Bannerghatta National Park was issued in October 2018, citizens were given 60 days to submit their objections. Environmental and civic action groups swung into action and encouraged people to submit their objections to the Ministry of Environment and Forests against the 100 sq.km. reduction of ESZ.
Over 65,000 people signed various online petitions against the move, apart from researchers and activists who sent specific objections. The fear of many was that this reduction would lead to more quarrying in the area.
While thousands of objections were sent to the MoEF, they were dismissed by the ESZ Committee as a ‘safe zone’ of 1km around protected areas is already in place across the country.
“However, this allows for other ‘development’ activities to take place, which can have an adverse impact on forests. An ESZ is supposed to complement the conservation of forests and manage these activities sustainably,” said Siddhant Nowlakha, an independent researcher who had submitted his objections over reducing ESZ to 100m in seven villages in the southern fringes of the forest.
He points of the infrastructure pressure on BNP through the upcoming metro line, proposed Peripheral and Satellite Ring Road, and widening of Kanakapura Road, apart from power lines and other construction work. “This will lead to dense urbanization around the park… Considering that thousands of citizens had written in, there should have been a more detailed look into the ESZ around Bannerghatta,” he said.
Suresh N.R. from Namma Bengaluru Foundation, which had organized a campaign against reduction of the ESZ, said, “Time and time again, the State government and officials have displayed apathy towards protecting nature in and around the city. There is no option but to go to the courts against this.”