The ministry of Environment and Forest declared ESZ guidelines on February 9, 2011. The guidelines included a broad list of activities that could be allowed, regulated or restricted. The protected areas such as wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, biosphere reserves, tiger reserves etc., have an eco-sensitive zone around them and need special conservation efforts owing to the pressures of human settlement and infrastructure development. Many development activities are prohibited, some are restricted with safeguards, and others are permissible. After an area has been notified as an ESZ, certain activities will be banned in all its form in these areas, while some non-polluting activities can continue to exist or can be started in the zone.
As per the notification, an eco-sensitive zone could extend upto 10 km around protected areas. However, a mandatory 1 km ESZ has to be ensured from the boundaries of protected forest land, national park and wildlife sanctuary. Permitted activities in this mandatory 1 km region include ongoing agricultural or horticultural practices, rainwater harvesting, organic farming, etc., while activities that are prohibited are commercial mining, sawmills, commercial use of wood, etc. Earlier no new permanent structure was permitted in the 1 km zone like roads, schools or houses. However, the Supreme Court modified its year-old order that banned all construction activity entirely and has permitted the forest dwellers to legitimately continue with their traditional activities including farming, construction of houses etc. Also, the state can construct roads, hospitals and schools within these eco-sensitive zones. However, mining will be prohibited within the ESZ. In this blog, we will deal with businesses that can be set up and the process for obtaining required licences and approvals.
History of ESZ Identification
- As forests fall in the concurrent list, due to the difference in approaches between central and state governments towards their conservation, the country did not have a mandatory rule on maintaining an ESZ around its protected area until now. In many cases, such zones have either yet to be notified or are near zero or totally absent.
- As it was noticed that Eco-sensitive zone have been shrinking around protected areas due to human activities who are exploiting natural resources without taking into account the sensitivity of the region bordering the protected areas.
- The direction issued by the SC, in response to a petition to protect forest in the Nilgiris district in Tamil Nadu in June 2022, identified peripheries of the protected area network to be vital ecological corridors links to be ecologically sensitive and mandated a 1 km ESZ around all protected areas of the country.
- Stress was also given on activities that will be allowed and which activities /businesses and developmental projects will be regulated or prohibited. With an aim to prevent the isolation of fragments of biodiversity which according to the court, will not survive in the long run.
- The width of the Eco-zones and the type of regulations can differ from protected area to protected area. Also, the regulations were decided to be kept flexible and specific to the protected area. However, as a general principle, the extent of the Eco-sensitive zones can go up to 10 km around the protected area as provided in the Wildlife Conservation strategy, 2002.
Activities/ Businesses Allowed/Not Allowed In Eco-Sensitive Zone
Rule 5(1) of the Environment (P) Act 1986 allows the central government to restrict the location of projects and industrial establishments and carry on certain operations or processes based on specific considerations. Section 3 of the Environment (P) Rules gives power to MoEF&CC to take all measures for protecting the quality of the environment and to preventing and controlling environmental pollution.
Therefore, Eco-Sensitive Zone or ESZ are notified by MoEF&CC across the Protected Areas, National Parks and Wildlife sanctuaries. ESZ act as “shock absorbers” for the protected areas such as national parks and sanctuaries to minimize the adverse impact on the “fragile ecosystems” by certain human activities taking place nearby. The government has used the same criteria to declare No Development Zones (NDZs). Activities prohibited under ESZs include
- Commercial mining
- Industries causing air, water, soil or noise pollution
- Establishment of major hydroelectric projects
- Activities that use wood for commercial purposes
- Tourism activities over protected areas like hot-air balloons as well as discharge of solid waste, effluents or production of hazardous substances.
Permitted/ Regulated Activities
Permitted Activities: Ongoing horticultural, agricultural and other farming practices, such as organic farming, use of renewable energy sources, rainwater harvesting and adoption of green technology for all activities.
Regulated Activities: Establishing hotels and resorts, Felling of trees, commercial use of natural water, any activity causing drastic change of agriculture system ( e.g. adoption of heavy technology, pesticide use), erection of electrical cables, widening of roads etc.
Prohibited Activities: Commercial mining, sawmills, industries causing pollution (air, water, soil, noise, etc.), the establishment of major hydroelectric projects (HEP), commercial use of wood, Tourism activities like hot-air balloons over the National Park, discharge of effluents or any solid waste or production of hazardous substances
The following table compiles the list of activities under the ESZ Notification that are permitted, regulated or prohibited.
|Regulated Activities/ Business Activities
|Felling Of Trees
|Ongoing agriculture and horticulture practices by local communities
|Setting Saw Mill
|Establishment of Hotels and Resorts
|Rain Water Harvesting
|Industries causing water, air, soil, noise pollution
|Erection of electrical cables
|Commercial use of firewood
|Use of renewable energy and adoption of green technologies for all activities
|Establishment of major hydroelectric projects
|Drastic Change of Agricultural Systems
|Use of Hazardous Substances for any activity
|Commercial use of natural water resources, including groundwater harvesting
|Undertaking tourism Activities like over-flying the National Park Area, hot air balloons etc.
|Signboards and Hoardings, widening of roads
|Movement of Vehicular traffic at night
|Introduction of Exotic Species
|Pollution caused due vehicles, discharge of effluents and solid waste in the environment (water bodies, terrestrial areas, air etc.)
ESZs are not meant to hamper the day to day activities ofthe local people but are intended to guard the protected areas and “refine the environment around them. As per the Guidelines for the declaration of Eco-Sensitive Zones around protected areas, regions providing connectivity and ecologically important patches, as well as crucial for landscape linkage, if present around the protected area, will be considered within ESZ. Further, the eco-sensitive zone may not be uniform all around, and it could be variable in width and extent. Eco-friendly green businesses can be conducted in a regulated manner, subject to the guidelines issued by the agencies from time to time. However, if a project is being developed outside the ESZ but within a 10 km radius of the buffer zone, careful assessment of various factors must be performed as a part of the environmental clearance for the project. The assistance of experts can help a project proponent in mandatory siting and prefeasibility studies to determine the project’s feasibility.