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Call for relook into industrial activity near biodiversity areas
SIVASISH THAKUR
 GUWAHATI, June 11 - Conservationists have called for a review of the State government’s policy of allowing hazardous industrial activities such as coal mining and oil drilling in the peripheral areas of biodiversity-rich areas, especially protected wildlife habitats in view of its destructive ecological impacts.

 Worryingly, such highly-polluting activities near wildlife habitats also violate eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) norms. In view of this, conservationists demanded that the government had a relook on the recent clearances Oil India Limited had received for drilling activities at seven locations near the Dibru Saikhowa National Park.

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1986 declared ESZs or ecologically fragile areas within a 10-km radius of a large number of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries (after receiving proposals from the state governments) to protect those from unwarranted industrial and commercial activities.

Significantly, according to a Supreme Court judgement dated December 18, 2018, if the government does not declare an ESZ, the area within the 10-km radius becomes ESZ by default.

The Dibru Saikhowa National Park is just 900 metres away from the Baghjan gas well that has been spewing uncontrolled gas for a fortnight before it exploded in a massive blaze on Tuesday. The Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, too, is located at a distance of less than 10 km from Saleki PRF, the controversial site of Coal India Limited’s opencast mining. Conservationists assert that both instances clearly violate the ESZ guidelines.

“The Baghjan mishap as also the ongoing opencast mining within Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve and in the vicinity of Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary should serve to cause a rethink on the government’s policy of allowing coal mining and oil drilling near wildlife habitats,” Dr Bibhab Talukdar, secretary general of Aaranyak told The Assam Tribune.

He said that violations of ESZ norms had been occurring under the very nose of the government authorities and “this must stop immediately”.

A forest official wishing anonymity revealed that high stakes in the form of oil and mineral reserves on land near protected forests were preventing the State government from taking an uncompromising stand on enforcing the sanctity of ESZs around prime wildlife habitats.

“Mining and oil lobbies have effectively scuttled enforcement of ESZ norms. It is for all there to see. If the government is serious about conserving the State’s rich biodiversity, industrial activities must be banned in the peripheral areas of protected forests,” he said.

ESZ norms prohibit commercial mining, saw mills, industries causing pollution (air, water, soil, noise, etc.), establishment of major hydroelectric projects, commercial use of wood, discharge of effluents or any solid waste or production of hazardous substances, and tourism activities like hot-air balloons over national parks/sanctuaries.

Aaranyak called for adequate compensation to the affected people at Baghjan by OIL in view of the huge loss of property and livelihood. It also demanded that OIL took full responsibility of the “restoration of the environmental damage caused and of the affected people whose life, property and everything is at stake.”

It further demanded that OIL equipped itself to deal with such an emergency in the future.

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