WHILE the Centre’s 2011 guidelines prohibit any aircraft or hot air balloon from flying over an eco-sensitive area, the rule has been overlooked in the notification issued for the eco-sensitive zone around Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). While the the draft drawn up by the state forest authorities in 2015 had listed flying over SGNP as prohibited activity, the current notification issued by the Union ministry states that activities related to tourism such as flying over the park by aircraft, hot air balloon, drone etc, will be regulated as per applicable laws.
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In Mumbai, heli-tourism is picking up. One of the routes starts in Juhu, takes the passengers over the Aarey Milk Colony to Powai lake and back.
Head of the state’s forest force Sarjan Bhagat said he was not involved in discussions on aircraft flying over the ESZ around SGNP. “The decision that the BMC chief will head the monitoring committee was taken by the government,” he said. Shree Bhagwan, principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF) for wildlife, declined to comment.
Guidelines for declaration of eco-sensitive zones around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries were issued by the environment ministry in 2011.
Later on December 5, 2016, the ministry declared an area of up to 4 km around SGNP an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ). The ESZ covers 59.46 sq km, of which 19.25 sq km is forest land and 40.21 sq km is non-forest land or private area around the national park. The objective of declaring a further area around the forest as an ESZ is to create a buffer zone for further protection and to ensure prevention of ecological damage due to developmental activities.
In September 2015, a year before the final notification on the city’s ESZ, a draft prepared by the state forest department had adhered to the already specified protocol regarding prohibiting flying over the buffer zone.
In the draft drawn up by the state forest authorities, undertaking activities related to tourism such as flying over SGNP by aircraft or hot air balloons was prohibited. “No aircraft shall fly below the sound barrier range in the airspace above the eco-sensitive zone or National Park. No air balloon activities except by the protect area authorities for promoting and monitoring wildlife shall be permitted in the airspace above the eco-sensitive zone,” the draft had said.
Meanwhile, Matheran, also a eco-sensitive zone with a no-fly rule, will have to wait longer for a proposed helicopter service from Mumbai planned by the MTDC. “The zonal committee believes the noise of the helicopters would disturb birds,” a senior government official said.