NEW DELHI: Taking a dig at the previous UPA regime, the government today said that it was "unfortunate"that only 15 eco-sensitive zones around protected areas of the country were declared in the last eight years against more than 150 by the present government in just eight months.
Noting that it was one of the most important "reform" and "achievement" of the Narendra Modi-led government, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said that his ministry will complete a "long-pending mammoth exercise" of declaring ESZs around 624 protected areas in the country by March next year.
"Defining the boundaries of all protected areas was the most important reform which we undertook... From 2006 to 2014, 15 notifications happened. But in last eight months, we made an all out effort, and that has resulted in approval of 176 proposals.
"This is a major achievement of the Narendra Modi-led government. This must be taken note of by everybody. We are doing it diligently with all scientific processes in place, after engaging extra team, with extra channels of dialogue with states in practice and making nodal officers at our end and state government level," Javadekar told reporters.
Giving out details, the Union Minister said that there are a total 624 protected areas (PAs) in the country which include national parks and sanctuaries.
Out of that, 100 proposals for ESZ were of Andaman and Nicobar Islands alone. Out of the remaining 524, 445 proposals were received by the ministry. "156 of them are under scrutiny by it and state governments," he said.
The Environment Ministry has issued 31 draft notification and 32 final notifications of ESZs, he said.
"One might find it a technical subject but defining ESZ is a major reform because this clarifies the situation on ground and ends the confusion," he said.
"By March 31, 2016, all the rest proposals will be processed and approved so that the confusion in the country in the name of ESZ will end and there will be clarity. We should not maintain confusion in the system. We must bring clarity," he said, adding, 179 proposals are yet to be received.
The ministry is making a compliance mechanism and creating that architecture (for it), he said.
Javadekar said a case was filed in the Supreme Court regarding the issue of declaring ESZs as no meaningful progress had been made in its regard.
The SC in 2006 gave four weeks from the date of order to all states for sending proposals to the ministry for demarcation of ESZ. The court said in case no ESZ proposal was sent, ESZ of 10 kms will apply around PAs, he said.
"However virtually no complete proposals for declaring ESZs were processed for almost eight years," he added.
Javadekar said the Ministry reviewed the process by convening meetings with states and sensitised them to send ESZ proposals as early as possible.
The Environment Ministry also identified nodal persons for the purpose. "We also constituted special teams in the Ministry for expeditious notifications. Even the matter was taken up with Law Ministry for special preference to ESZ notifications, the minister said.
He said the proposals forwarded by the state governments were sent to Wildlife Institute of India (WII) for assessing extent of ESZ, biodiversity and others. Decision support systems like goespatial technologies were used to ascertain the extent of ESZ, he said.
The purpose of declaring ESZ is to create a buffer zone where only regulated activities for specialised ecosystem will be allowed and this area will work as further ecological protection of PAs.