GUWAHATI, July 9 - Conservationists have called for expediting the declaration of Kaziranga�s peripheral areas as eco-sensitive zone for not just boosting long-term conservation of wildlife and their habitat but also to effectively use the status to ensure economic benefits to the local communities and transform them into active stakeholders in conservation.
This is because declaring a one-kilometre zone from the national park�s boundaries as eco-sensitive zone � as stated by the draft proposal four years back � would put a curb on activities inimical to the interests of conservation such as mining and other polluting industries, and setting up of new hotels. At the same time, activities like home-stays to benefit the local communities would be encouraged.
The eco-sensitive zone proposal in fact has a separate eco-tourism zone for the benefit of the fringe communities.
�The government should expedite the process for declaration of the eco-sensitive zone at the earliest. It will serve the dual purpose of protecting wildlife and their habitat, and benefiting the local communities through eco-tourism. Unfortunately, the proper message has not gone down to the fringe dwellers who are apprehensive about the fallouts of eco-sensitive zone. They fear that it will curb their existing and normal activities in the peripheral areas � although that is not the fact,� Dr PJ Borah of WWF-India, who has been working with fringe dwellers on the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape, told The Assam Tribune.
According to Dr Borah, the fact that the curb would be on industries and new hotels, and that the eco-sensitive zone proposal endorses community-managed tourism should reach the people living near Kaziranga.
�There is clearly a communication gap between the forest authorities and the people living near Kaziranga. Some vested interest groups are also spreading misinformation. This was also evident during Kaziranga�s declaration as a Tiger Reserve a few years back,� he said, adding that the industry lobby was against declaration of eco-sensitive zone for obvious reasons.
According to the proposal, the prohibitions in the eco-sensitive zone include commercial mining, saw mills, polluting industries, setting up of big industries or power plants, production of hazardous substances, discharge of effluents into water bodies, etc. No new hotels would be permitted within a one-kilometre radius of the national park.
A forest official said that it was time some long-term plan was implemented with the local communities as stakeholders. �Without their involvement, it would be difficult to protect the existing wildlife corridors. Growing commercial activities, including an uncalled-for spurt in tourist facilities, are having an adverse impact on the animal corridors. This can be checked by involving the local people,� he said.
Dr Borah said that WWF-India was already engaging with local communities for corridor restoration but �much more is needed to be done.�
In 2015, the National Green Tribunal had also directed the Assam government to clear its stand on eco-sensitive zones and how it had permitted large-scale hotel projects to come up close to Kaziranga�s boundaries.