CHENNAI: The principal bench of the National Green Tribunal has directed all state governments to undertake carrying capacity studies of all eco-sensitive areas, which have been created to act as "shock absorbers" for protected areas.
To ensure sustainable development, the tribunal on July 30, 2018 had directed the Union Ministry of Urban Development and Union Environment Ministry to initiate steps to undertake carrying capacity studies, which would assess the burden on eco-sensitive zones in terms of air, water, habitat, biodiversity, land, noise and tourism. However, compliance from states has been poor so far.
Only one rapid environmental carrying capacity study was done for the eco-sensitive zone of Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai. Later, the green tribunal got a carrying capacity study conducted for eco-sensitive and geographical fragile areas of Manali and McLeodganj. Recently, the tribunal has considered a similar study done by an expert committee appointed by the NGT in Mount Abu eco-sensitive area to determine the number of tourists and vehicles to be permitted and imposing ban/restriction on rope way and sport climbing activities.
In view of these, the NGT bench comprising chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, judicial member SK Singh and expert member Nagin Nanda opined that there was need to undertake carrying capacity of eco-sensitive areas in all states and Union territories.
"In spite of such a need, such studies do not appear to have been undertaken. We reiterate our direction for this course of action being adopted in a time bound manner to enforce the 'Sustainable Development' and 'Precautionary' principles. In the first instance, such studies may be undertaken for at least one eco-sensitive area in every state/UT," the bench said in its order dated March 17.
During the hearing, counsel for the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) stated that while such studies for all eco-sensitive areas are necessary, it may be difficult for CPCB alone to undertake the exercise. It suggested that such studies be conducted by the concerned states/UTs by associating concerned experts and hand-holding may be provided by the Union Environment Ministry.
Accordingly, the NGT directed that studies will be coordinated by a joint committee comprising State PCB, Secretary/ Director Environment and Chief Wildlife Warden. "The nodal agency will be the Secretary/Director, Environment for coordination and compliance," said the bench.
The NGT said the first phase should be completed within six months and the next phase in a further six months. "In the light of such carrying capacity studies, the respective master plans of the eco-sensitive areas in question should be modified," the bench said.