NEW DELHI: A panel set up to review norms for no-go areas that will protect certain areas from commercial activity is likely to recommend mining should be disallowed in all national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the country.
Sources in the government told TOI that the committee, headed by the Union environment and forests secretary, is likely to close the debate over no-go areas as it is not inclined to reassess protected areas in view of existing legal protection provided to national parks and sanctuaries that has been supplemented by orders of the Supreme Court.
The committee was set up after a Group of Ministers (GoM) on coal asked the environment ministry to reconsider parameters for no-go areas, where mining is not permitted. They were renamed inviolate areas and the ministry asked to set new norms to be put before the GoM.
The panel’s decision can make it difficult for any relaxation of a policy that has come under pressure from some central ministries and state governments. While ministries like coal and mining have been keen that the no-go policy be made less rigid, the committee does not seem to favour any dilution.
The panel, sources said, feels that parks and sanctuaries provided a higher level of protection under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1976, should not be re-evaluated for their forest value. The head of the Wildlife Institute of India, Forest Survey of India and other senior forest officers from the Centre and select states are the other members of the committee.
There are 661 such protected areas comprising of 100 National Parks, 514 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 43 Conservation Reserves and 4 Community Reserves that add up to roughly 5% of the country’s geographical area. This includes the tiger reserves as well.
The committee is likely to recommend that patches of forest be measured for their forest cover as well as biodiversity values. The panel has not considered the implications of the Forest Rights Act as yet. Under the existing rules, the ministry cannot allocate forest lands to development projects until the rights of the people under the FRA have been settled and the village councils of the affected area agreed to the diversion of forest.
Once the committee’s recommendations are considered by the GoM and approved, the ministry would be asked to again demarcate the no-go zones for mining, but this may happen only after the cases of Mahan and Chhatrasal blocks in Madhya Pradesh, which the GoM has pushed hard for clearing, are reassessed.