Gir loses 10km of protective ring
THE TIMES OF INDIA
AHMEDABAD: The Gujarat government has finalized the proposal for reducing the size of 'eco-sensitive zones (ESZ)' around protected sanctuaries owing to developmental pressures in the concerned areas. The group of ministers, which met on Tuesday, revised the size of ESZs of almost all important wildlife sanctuaries in the state, including the Nalsarovar wetland (a Ramsar site), Gir-Asiatic Lion sanctuary and the Asiatic Wild Ass Sanctuary which figures in Unesco's tentative list of world natural heritage sites.
The state government has reduced the size of different ESZs from 3 km to 23 km. Initially, the purpose of the zones was to create a kind of 'shock absorber' around protected sanctuaries, mainly to regulate human activity and check uncontrolled development around them. Instead, the government has altered the boundaries of the ESZs thus putting at risk protected wildlife in each sanctuary. Sources said this had been done to benefit some local residents of the affected areas.
Senior officials of the state forest department said that following representation by several elected representatives, including MLAs, the government decided to review the entire proposal and constituted a committee of ministers for the purpose.
The committee's members are forest and environment minister Ganpat Vasava; agriculture minister Chiman Sapariya; animal husbandry minister Babu Bokhiriya; labour and employment minister Dilip Thakore (all cabinet ministers); and minister of state for urban development Shankar Chaudhary.
The officials said that the ministers group, along with MLAs, held a meeting with local leaders (mostly BJP workers) who had made a representation against the proposed ESZ or the ESZ published in the draft notification. Based on their representation, the ministers group immediately ordered reduction in the size of the ESZs. The first meeting of the group of ministers was held in February and its second meeting was held on Tuesday.
Officials said that for Gir sanctuary, the ESZ was reduced by 10 km — from a maximum size of 17.3 km to 7 km. The new proposal for Gir ESZ fixed by the group of ministers is from a minimum of zero to a maximum of seven km.
The officials further said that along the rivers in Lion Corridor area, the earlier proposal had ESZ of 500 meters from both the banks of the river, especially Shetrunji. But the group of ministers have decided to have only the riverbed where mining will not be allowed.
In Nalsarovar, the ESZ was reduced from a maximum of 13 km to only 5.6 km. Earlier when the minimum area was 2.35 km from the boundaries, the government had fixed the ESZ in the revised proposal to 1.5 km.
"What is surprising is a sharp decline in the ESZ for Velavadar blackbuck sanctuary. The proposed ESZ ranged from one km to 26 km but now is has been reduced to only one km to three km," an official said. "The proposal for Velavadar was to be cleared at the meeting of the ESZ committee of the Union ministry of environment and forest in October 2016 but it was put on hold following a request by the state government."