Kalpana Palkhiwala: Environmentally Sensitive Zones are areas with identified environmental resources having “Incomparable Values” which require special attention for their conservation. Ecological sensitivity is defined as the imminent possibility of permanent and irreparable loss of extant life forms from the world, or significant damage to the natural processes of evolution and speciation. This means loss of bio-diversity needs to be measured not only against some measure of the current stock, but also in terms of the potential that must be preserved for future generations. After degradation and loss of natural resources, the Ministry of Environment and Forests has identified eco-sensitive areas in the Eastern Ghats and is also taking initiatives to protect biodiversity. In exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section (1) read with clause (v) and clause (xiv) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (29 of 1986) and sub-rule (3) of rule 5 of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986, the Central Government can notify any area as the Eco-sensitive Zone.
Criteria to Declare Environmentally Sensitive Zones
There are three main criteria to declare any area as Ecologically Sensitive Zone. The first of the primary criteria is species related, and defines the characteristics of species which are or may become threatened with extinction. These include endemism, rarity, endangered species and centres of evolution of domesticated species. The second category relates to eco-systems. Some of these derive their importance from being essential to the survival of the first category, while the rest are critical for maintaining the range and pace of evolution and speciation. These include wildlife Corridors, specialised ecosystems, and special breeding site/area, areas with intrinsically lowresilience, sacred groves and frontier forests etc. The third category includes geo-morphological conditions which are known to have substantial effect on eco-systems at large. These include uninhabited islands in the sea, steep slopes, origins or rivers. In addition to these primary criteria, there are seven auxiliary criteria viz., species based – areas orcentres of less known food plants, eco system based – wetlands and grasslands and geo-morphological features based – upper catchment areas, not so steep slopes, high rainfall areas and other uninhabited islands.
There are also probable areas to be declared as ecologically sensitive zones. A certain amount of prioritization is given to the areas which are already known to be either ecologically important or under ecological stress. Examples of such areas are National parks and Sanctuaries, Tiger Reserves, Protected and Reserve Forests, Biosphere Reserves, National Marine Parks, Coastal Regulation Zone – I and Hill Stations.
Initiatives Taken for Eastern Ghats
The Eastern Ghats form a broken chain of mountainous terrain spreading in the states of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu and two districts of Karnataka. The jurisdiction is covered in four sections, namely- Northern-Eastern Ghats which covers the area above Mahanadi to Northern boundary of Orissa- Mayurbhanj district. Other three sections are river Mahanadi to river Godavari, river Krishna to Chennai city and southern ghats i.e. tract between Chennai and Nilgiri hills to river Vaigai.
Seshachalam hill ranges of Andhra Pradesh have been designated as Biosphere Reserve. Several Wildlife Sanctuaries have been established in the Eastern Ghats to preserve its Biodiversity. These include GundlaBrahmeswaram, Kambalakonda, Kaundinya, Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam, Papikonda, Pocharam, Rollapadu, SriLankamallesqaram, Sri Penisula Narasimha and Sri Venkateswara Wildlife Sanctraries.
Botanical Survey of India (BSI) has published several floras to document on the biodiversity of Eastern Ghats. These are Flora of Tamil Nadu (including districts of Eastern Ghats), Flora of Nallamalais, Flora of Visakhapatnam, Flora of Nellore, Flora of Venkateshwara Wildlife Sanctuary, Flora of Araku Valley , Flora ofNagarjuankonda, Flora of Maredumalai, Flora of Medak and Flora of Chittor District.
Zooligical Survey of India(ZSI) has also taken steps to document the faunal resources in the Eastern Ghats. It has published under State Fauna series the Fauna of Andhra Pradesh in eight volumes and the Fauna of Tamilnaduin two volumes, both of which contain the fauna of Eastern Ghats also.
Fifteen wetlands have been identified in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal for management and conservation. Sixteen Mangroves sites have been identified in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal for the protection of Mangroves. The Ministry has established National Mangrove Genetic Resources Centre in Orissa.
A National Biodiversity Authority has been set up and as per Biodiversity Act, 2002, seven Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) have been formed to document and preserve the biodiversity in the Eastern Ghats. The model People’s Biodiversity Register (PBR) has also been issued to the State Biodiversity Boards to facilitate the preparation of PBRs (documenting biodiversity and associated knowledge) by these Biodiversity Management Committees.
Environment Protection Training and Research Institute (EPTRI), Hyderabad and Ministry of Environment and Forests, signed a Memorandum of Understanding in March 1994 for setting up of Environmental Aspects of Eastern Ghats as its subject.
The jurisdiction of the Eastern Ghats extends in the States of Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and parts of Karnataka. An ENVIS Coordination Committee was set up as per the MoU to guide the development and work of the ENVIS Center. The Committee comprises of experts from various disciplines with representation from the concerned states and including representatives from the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
The “Tirupati Statement” on Conservation of Eastern Ghats was drawn in 2002 at Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh. The Statement also pointed out the role of the various stake holders to launch a comprehensive scheme for the conservation of Eastern Ghats on the lines of Western Ghats Development and Hills Area Developmentprogramme.