Centre Proposes Eco-Sensitive Zone for Villages Around Bhitarkanika National Park
Centre Proposes Eco-Sensitive Zone for Villages Around Bhitarkanika National Park

ODISHA: The Union Ministry of Forests, Environment and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has unveiled a draft notification proposing an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) covering 209 villages with a population of approximately 2.75 lakh around Bhitarkanika National Park and Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary in Odisha's Kendrapara district and nearby areas. Known as the second largest mangrove forest in India after Sundarbans, Bhitarkanika is home to a diverse ecosystem, and Gahirmatha is renowned as the world's largest rookery of sea turtles.

According to Manas Das, Assistant Conservator of Forest (ACF) of Bhitarkanika National Park, the proposed ESZ will cover an area of 497.67 square kilometers, extending from 0.10 to 8.7 kilometers around the boundary of Bhitarkanika National Park, Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, and Gahirmatha (Marine) Wildlife Sanctuary. It aims to minimize human-wildlife conflict, promote in-situ conservation of wildlife, and safeguard fragile ecosystems.

The ESZ will encompass 205 villages across Aul, Pattamundai, Rajnagar, Rajkanika, and Mahakalapada blocks in Kendrapara district, and Chandabali block in Bhadrak district. The MoEFCC has invited suggestions or objections to the proposed ESZ by August 9, 2024.

Bhitarkanika is known for having the largest natural population of estuarine crocodiles in India and boasts rich reptilian diversity. The area also hosts the largest heronry in Asia, active during the monsoon, and is a habitat for winter migratory birds visiting the Bhitarkanika wetland annually.

Bhitarkanika is Odisha's second Ramsar site, while the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary is globally renowned for the mass nesting of Olive Ridley sea turtles.

The draft notification outlines that a zonal master plan will be developed within two years. Local land cannot be used for commercial or industrial activities without state approval. Construction of hotels and resorts will be prohibited within one kilometer from the boundary of the protected area or within the eco-sensitive zone's extent.

The proposed ESZ prohibits activities such as commercial mining, stone crushers, shrimp farms, brick kilns, and commercial use of firewood. Only non-polluting industries will be allowed within the eco-sensitive zone, and all activities will be governed by environmental laws including the Coastal Regulation Zone, 2011, the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006, and other applicable laws such as the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, the Indian Forest Act, 1927, and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

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