Tuesday, March 17, 2015

National Green Tribunal petitioned with challenge against shrinking of Eco-Sensitive Zones

The working president of Affected Citizens of Teesta, Tseten Lepcha, acting in his individual capacity as “a person living in the buffer zone of the Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve/ Khangchendzonga National Park and being affected by the decision to reduce the ESZ and not necessarily representing any organization”, has approached the National Green Tribunal challenging the Notification of the Ministry of Environment & Forests reducing the Eco-Sensitive Zone buffer around national parks from the existing 10 kms to an insignificant 25 to 200 metres. The National Green Tribunal, Eastern Zone Bench, has admitted Mr. Lepcha’s petition.
The Ministry of Environment & Forests, it may be recalled, had quietly put out the final notification reducing these protected zones around eight national parks and sanctuaries from the existing 10 km to eco-sensitive zones ranging from 25 to 200 metres. These covered the protected areas of Pangolakha, Singba Rhododendron, Fambonglho, Kyongnosla Alpine wildlife sanctuaries and the Khangchendzonga National Park, Mainam Wildlife Sanctuary, Kitam Bird Sanctuary and Barsey Rhododendron sanctuary are publicized by the Ministry.
While challenging the notification before the National Green Tribunal, Mr. Lepcha has argued that the Gazette Notifications may cause disturbance to the wildlife and its habitats and also open opportunities for development activities posing a threat to wildlife.
The MoEF had not disposed off the objections and suggestions lodged by a number of people including the SIBLAC and Affected Citizens of Teesta and other environmental activists across the country, ignoring the very procedures before the publication of Notifications which had also bypassed the National Board for Wildlife under the same ministry, Mr. Lepcha said.
The NGT’s Eastern Zone Bench in Kolkata admitted the petition on 27 February and issued notices to the Central and state respondents, adding that the Tribunal is satisfied with the pleadings made in the original application for adjudication on applying the environmental jurisprudence vis-a-vis the concerned Act and notifications thereof.
The NGT, Zonal bench headed by Justice Pratap Kumar Ray and Prof.  PC Mishra, directed the respondents to file affidavit in respect of the contentions made in the original application.
Mr. Lepcha maintains that neither were their suggestions and complains on the Draft notification acknowledged, nor were they informed of any action taken on the matter, “grossly ignoring the very procedures laid down before the final publications of Notification”.
The Ministry has not changed anything from the draft Notification which was published in February last year and has instead added three more national parks and sanctuaries - Mainam Wildlife Sanctuary, Kitam Bird and Barsey Rhododendron sanctuary. Sikkim has a total of eight protected areas - one national park and seven wildlife sanctuaries, covering 2,183 sq km area of the state.
In a press statement issued on Friday, Mr. Lepcha argues that the ESZ did not necessarily hinder any developmental activities as there were provisions due to which many activities were permitted, some regulated and few prohibited.
“The classic example of development work with proper monitoring by environmental agencies is the Skywalk at Baleydunga. This project is in the core zone of Maenam Wild Life sanctuary, yet clearance has been given after the conditions were followed,” he points out, adding that the reduction of the ESZ “was mooted with the wrong notion that there were won’t be any developmental work by few individuals, which probably misled the Govt and general public, in the process has caused serious damage to the rich bio diversity of Sikkim.”
In October last year, Mr. Lepcha had also served a legal notice to the Ministry of Environment and Forests in this connection and when this fetched no response, he took the present step of approaching the National Green Tribunal.
“…having exhausted all available options and getting no positive response this petition has been filed with the prayer that the Notification Dated 27 August 2014 of the eco-sensitive zones around the protected areas in the state of Sikkim declaring the ESZ be quashed and fresh notification should be issued in accordance with the legislative policy regarding the same. Further, prayer for stay of the new notification has been submitted till the pendency of the application and till such time the old 10 Km zone be continued,” Mr. Lepcha has petitioned.

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