With the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) issuing a notification declaring the area around the boundary of the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary an “Eco-Sensitive Zone”, activities such as commercial mining, setting up of industries, and establishment of major hydro-electric projects will be prohibited.
The notification, however, allows commercial establishment of hotels and resorts and construction activities, but makes it more regulated in an area varying from 100-1,000 metres around the boundary — a move being criticised by environmentalists.
Dated May 31, the notification designates “about 12.17 square kilometres” as an Eco-Sensitive Zone, of which 11.82 sq km falls in Faridabad and 0.35 sq km in Gurgaon. The villages of Surajkund, Mangar, Gwal Pahari and Anangpur fall under the categorisation.
“Floral and faunal value”, the presence of the Sanctuary, and the wildlife corridor that starts at Sariska National Park and reaches the sanctuary via Mewat, Gurgaon and Faridabad are some of the reasons that the MoEF has given while assigning the area the eco-sensitive tag.
Hotels and resorts, as per the notification, will not be allowed within 1 km of the boundary of the protected area or up to the extent of the Eco-Sensitive Zone, whichever is nearer. “Small temporary structures” for eco-tourism activities, however, can be built.
Although new commercial construction will be prohibited within 1 km of the protected area boundary and in the Eco-Sensitive Zone, “local people shall be permitted to undertake construction in their land for their use”.
Environmentalists, however, are skeptical of the notification. Lt Col Rtd Sarvadaman Oberoi, who works in the field, said, “The Eco-Sensitive Zone excludes more than 80% of the contiguous Aravallis on the Haryana side of Asola Bhatti sanctuary, and is contradictory to the concept of Natural Conservation Zone. For example, you cannot construct in NCZ area, but Eco-Sensitive Zone implies you can construct for tourism. It weakens NCZ. The notification keeps only 1 km as eco-sensitive. It would have been better if the full Aravallis contiguous to Asola sanctuary, up to Damdama lake, had been included in this category instead.”
Some, however, were hopeful. Ecologist Vijay Dhasmana said the notification may put “pressure” on the state government to take the plight of the forests more seriously. “I wish that the area declared eco-sensitive was 1 km throughout, but even so, the onus is now on the state government to save whole of Aravalli. The government needs to realise that all this development they have done in the form of Gurgaon and Faridabad is also not sustainable without it,” he said.
In the area demarcated as eco-sensitive, “promoted activities” will include rainwater harvesting, organic farming, adoption of green technology, among others.
The notification provides for a ‘monitoring committee’, chaired by the deputy commissioner of Faridabad, with divisional wildlife officer, Gurgaon, as its member secretary.