Plans afoot to accord ‘eco-sensitive zone’ tag to 3 rich ecosystems in Odisha

Bhubaneswar: The Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has plans to declare a total area of ​​497.67 sq km in Odisha as Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) soon. The ESZ spreads around the boundaries of Bhitarkanika National Park, Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, and Gahirmatha (Marine) Wildlife Sanctuary, ranging from 0.10 km to 8.7 km.

The Union Ministry recently published a draft notification in this regard.

According to an official source, the stakeholders have been invited to submit proposals, objections, and suggestions within 60 days from the publication date, after which the notification will be enforced. This development has caused concern among the residents of 205 villages within the notified ESZ.

The ESZ spans around three protected areas under Mangrove Forest (Wildlife) Division of Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary (established in 1975), Gahirmatha (Marine) Wildlife Sanctuary (established in 1997), and Bhitarkanika National Park (established in 1998). The Central government aims to safeguard crucial habitats, migration corridors, and breeding grounds by delineating this zone.

Bhitarkanika is renowned for its 88 species of rare mangroves and is home to a prominent crocodile conservation project. It harbours the largest population of estuarine crocodiles in India and is celebrated for its diverse reptilian fauna.

Under the Ramsar Convention, Bhitarkanika biodiversity region is recognised as a wetland of international importance. Gahirmatha is also acclaimed worldwide for the remarkable mass nesting of Olive Ridley sea turtles. This ecosystem area supports 61 species of invertebrates, 20 species of fish, five species of amphibians, 42 species of reptiles, over 280 species of birds, and 28 species of mammals, highlighting the critical need for its preservation.

The specified area, which includes 205 villages — 52 in Rajnagar, eight in Pattamundai, 38 in Mahakalapara, 32 in Aul, 30 in Rajkanika blocks of Kendrapara district, and 45 villages in Chandbali, Bansda, and Tihidi blocks of Bhadrak district — falls under the ESZ.

After the final gazette notification of the ESZ, stringent regulations will be imposed to manage noise, air pollution, land use, water resources, waste disposal, and vehicular traffic. Additionally, restrictions will apply to new construction, and tourism activities will be governed by specific guidelines.

The State government has to effectively manage the ESZ by developing a zonal master plan within two years, incorporating feedback from locals. This plan will be formulated in collaboration with Forests & Wildlife, Environment, Urban & Rural Development, Tourism, Revenue, Agriculture, Irrigation & Flood Control, Public Works, and Panchayati Raj departments, including Municipality, in conformity with both the Central and State environmental laws.

Additionally, as mandated by the official gazette, the Central government will establish a monitoring committee for ecologically sensitive areas. This committee will be chaired by Kendrapara district Collector. Its secretaries will include representatives of Bhadrak district Collector and SP, Kendrapara SP, members of prominent NGOs, state-appointed environmentalists, and State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) secretaries as well as DFOs from Bhadrak and Rajnagar.

Notably, the ESZ designation aims to safeguard this unique and sensitive region from various threats, while striving to achieve a balance between conservation efforts and sustainable human activities, thereby preserving the ecosystem.

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