The board's decision on denotification and diversion within 'protected areas', taken in the meeting of its standing committee on October 5, involved Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh, Mukundra National Park in Rajasthan and Bahu Conservation Reserve in Jammu district.
NEW DELHI: In an ironical development, the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) — the apex body which approves projects keeping in view legal sanctity of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks — during 'wildlife week' last month, recommended de-notification and diversion of more than 1,000 sq km of 'protected areas' and allowed activities which could easily be located outside such green zones.
'Wildlife week' is celebrated every year between October 2 and 8 to promote conservation efforts of flora and fauna in the country.
The board's decision on denotification and diversion within 'protected areas', taken in the meeting of its standing committee on October 5, involved Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh , Mukundra National Park in Rajasthan and Bahu Conservation Reserve in Jammu district.
An analysis by Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) showed that the move was among the single largest denotification of 'protected areas' in the country in recent times. Simply put, the 'de-notified' areas cannot be protected with legally defined dos and don'ts like 'notified' areas and thus turned out to be quite vulnerable for wildlife.
The board, in order to rationalise the boundary of Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary, approved exclusion of nearly 47% of its area (978 sq km) from its originally notified 2,073 sq km area from both the left and right banks of the Ganga river in UP. For scale, this is more than the entire area of Kanha Tiger Reserve (over 917 sq. km).
Referring to the decision of the Standing Committee of the NBWL, environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta said, "The exclusion of this magnitude will have significant impact on the entire riverine ecosystem of the sanctuary. It is sad that even in the week when wildlife conservation is supposed to be a priority the standing committee approved de-notification of such large areas of PA."
Underlining the irony of such decision, Dutta said, "If the NBWL is unable to stop the destruction of wildlife during the 'wildlife week', it is time to either do away with the sham of 'wildlife week' or do away with the Standing Committee of the Board."
The Standing Committee, headed by the Union environment minister, currently comprises of only two non-official members – H S Singh, former principal chief conservator of forest, Gujarat and R Sukumar from the Indian Institute of Science.
Asked about the decision to de-notify large area of the HWS, member of the Committee H S Singh, said, "The area recommended for de-notification is mainly non-forest land. It's being used for agriculture and habitation for years. The idea is to rationalise the boundaries of the sanctuary so that it can be protected under law. Forest area within the sanctuary has not been recommended for de-notification. The forest areas will continue to be part of the HWS."
Though the Committee has said that the UP government would take action for addition of 187 sq. km area to the sanctuary or notify it as 'eco-sensitive zone' (ESZ), the ESZ declaration means a much lower level of protection as activities which are detrimental for wildlife are permitted within such zones.
The LIFE in its analysis flagged that the decision to de-notify is in violation of the Supreme Court orders which had in 2000 prohibited de-notification of any national park, forest and sanctuary.
The other decisions of the Board include diversion of PA land (Mukundra National Park) for development of eight lanes of national highways in Rajasthan. Besides, one of the proposals considered by the Committee on October 5 was for developing judicial infrastructure for the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir. The proposed location of this project is in the Bahu Conservation Reserve of Jammu district.
"The problem is that if we lose 'protected areas' for even infrastructure of High Courts, there is no purpose in terming them as PA," said Dutta.
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