The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) on Monday declared an area of up to 4 kilometre around Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) as eco-sensitive zone (ESZ). The objective behind declaring a further area around the forest, located within the city limits, as an eco-sensitive zone is to create a buffer area for the protection of the national park.
The 40-page notification, issued on December 5, will now govern all development activities including residential construction within this ESZ — a 59.46 sq km sprawl of which only 19.25 sq km is forest land and the remaining 40.21 sq km is non-forest land — around SGNP. According to the notification, the ESZ extends from a minimum of up to 100 metres and maximum of up to 4 km from the boundary of the SGNP.
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With SGNP being uniquely located within the boundaries of the financial capital, and adjoining the fast developing Mumbai Metropolitan Region, the declaration of the ESZ will impact all new construction in this area. According to the notification, all development in this zone will have to be in accordance with municipal by-laws, development control regulations, applicable regulations under the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act and provisions of the ESZ notification.
Under guidelines by the MoEF&CC, the declaration of ESZ around protected areas was done to ensure prevention of ecological damage to national parks due to developmental activities around them.
The ESZ around the SGNP, however, will not affect the proposed Metro rail carshed in Aarey Colony. In fact, an area of 1.65 sq km for the Mumbai Metro railshed of Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation has been excluded from the ESZ.
The state government will now prepare a ‘Zonal Master Plan’ to monitor the ESZ, within a period of two years. The plan needs to be made in consultation with local residents.
The final notification comes following a draft notification published in January this year.
According to the notification, the Zonal Master Plan will be prepared in consultation with ten state departments for integrating environmental and ecological considerations. The state departments include environment, forest, urban development, tourism, municipal, revenue, agriculture, pollution control board, irrigation and public works department.
A Tourism Master Plan will also be prepared by the department of tourism in consultation with the departments of revenue and forests. New eco-tourism activities will be proposed within the zone, the notification further read.
Besides, new and existing mining, stone quarrying and crushing units will be prohibited within this zone. No new commercial hotels and resorts will be permitted within one km from the boundary of the protected area. A tall fence is also to be erected over the existing boundary wall, especially in areas with pre-existing residential areas in the ESZ.
Ecological experts and activists said the details of how this zone will be different from the rest of the city remain unclear.
“They have permitted construction of the Metro shed, IT offices, sewage lines and communication towers. Though all this is still subject to the final NGT order, how different is this zone from the rest of the city?” said Stalin Dayanand, director of NGO Vanashakti. The organisation had filed a plea in the National Green Tribunal seeking declaration of Aarey as an ESZ after Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation sought approvals to set up the depot of the Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ Metro Rail project at Aarey.
The Centre will constitute a committee for effective monitoring of the ESZ. The monitoring committee will include either the municipal commissioner or the additional municipal commissioner of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, who will be the chairman and there are twelve other members.
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