CHENNAI: In a strange decision, the State forest department has sought no buffer area for the Pulicat bird sanctuary, an ecologically critical area.
When it came to identifying eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) for Pulicat bird sanctuary in line with all other wildlife and bird sanctuaries in Tamil Nadu, the forest department has submitted a proposal wherein 'zero' ESZ area was demarcated. The ESZ acts as a buffer for protected sites and several activities that could disturb wildlife are banned in this zone.
The Tamil Nadu government’s proposal had come-up for discussion during an ESZ Expert Committee in March. Chief Wildlife Warden Sanjay Srivastava has made a detailed presentation and the committee did not agree with the State government and asked the Union environment ministry to seek views of Wildlife Division, ahead of considering the proposal again. The ESZ Committee has recorded this in the minutes of the meeting.
Pulicat bird sanctuary is shared by Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The area in Tamil Nadu is about 153.67 sq.km. In 2015, Andhra Pradesh government has notified 2 km from the boundary of Pulicat lake as ESZ area. The Pulicat Lake, which is the second-largest brackish water lagoon in India, is spread across 610 sq.km attracting 220 species of birds, of which about 60 species are migratory birds. It is an Important Bird Area (IBA) identified by the Birdlife International. The site is also qualified to be a Ramsar site.
Considering all this, Tamil Nadu’s decision not to have ESZ area for such a unique ecosystem was rather surprising, says noted ecologist D Narasimhan.
However, defending the decision of the state government, Chief Wildlife Warden Sanjay Srivastava told Express that the protected area of the sanctuary in Tamil Nadu, unlike Andhra Pradesh, includes Pulicat lake as well as 13 villages located adjoining the lake where the feeding grounds for the birds are located.
"The distance between the boundary of these villages from the High Tide Line (HTL) of the lake ranges from about 450 meters to more than 5 km at certain places. This zone provides sufficient shelter and buffers to the birds. Any new area proposed for ESZ will result in animosity with the local people and that will go against the efforts for conservation. Hence there is no ecological requirement of any other buffer area for the conservation management of the sanctuary which is only seasonal in nature at the time of arrival of birds. Therefore, it has been decided not to propose any ESZ for Pulicat bird sanctuary," he said.
The purpose for declaring ESZ around the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries is to create a kind of “shock absorber” for the protected areas and they would also act as a transition zone from the areas of high protection to the areas of lesser protection. Activists had been raising concerns in recent years over building ports and industrial zones in areas around the Pulicat bird sanctuary on both sides of the Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Recently, the Central government approved ESZs for 11 sanctuaries in Tamil Nadu.