The Punjab Government wants to have just 100 metres of eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) around the Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary. If cleared by the Central Government, this could not just pave the way for construction of Camelot, multi-storey and multi-towered housing project by Tata Housing Development Corporation, but also by several other builders right next to the ecologically sensitive sanctuary, in both Punjab and Haryana.

Many developers, including some big names in the real estate sector, have bought land in the area surrounding the wildlife sanctuary - in both Punjab and Haryana.  Since a major part of the sanctuary's 35-km-long boundary falls in these two states, the eco sensitive zone - a buffer around the protected area - has not been defined yet, because all three governments have failed to arrive at a consensus on the area of eco-sensitive zone (ESZ).

The Camelot project site is only 123 metres (on the northern side) and 183 metres (on the eastern side) away from the Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary - as was found by a team of the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 2011- after The Tribune, through a series of reports, highlighted how the project would adversely affect the wildlife in the sanctuary, because of the air, noise and water pollution bound to be caused, with such a huge project right at the doorstep of the protected area. If the area of the ESZ is reduced to 100 metres, the project stands a chance of getting all regulatory clearances. 

Though Punjab wants just a 100-metre ESZ, the Chandigarh Administration, which created the Sukhna Widlife Sanctuary, has proposed to have a 2.75-km radius (from the outer boundary) of the sanctuary as the ESZ. The UT Administration is following the guideline of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) that restricts non-forest use of land around 10 km radius of the sanctuary, and makes it mandatory for all project developers (including housing, commercial and institutional) to first seek an environment clearance from MoEF, before the project can be given a go ahead.  

Sources in MoEF said the rules clearly said "till the time, the state(s) where a protected area (wildlife sanctuary and national parks) is located has not defined the area of an ESZ, the area falling within a 10-kilometre radius from the outer boundary of the protected area will be deemed as an ESZ. 

"As a result, permissions and clearances will have to be sought from the ministry for an activity within this zone. Since this zone around the Sukhna sanctuary has not been defined, all high-density constructions, including those done by PGI in Chandigarh, have been given a go- ahead by us," said a Ministry official.

The Punjab Government, led by Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, met the Union Environment Minister Prakash Javedekar on Friday. Amongst other issues discussed with the Minister, was a request from the government to have just 100-metre area from the boundary of the Sukhna Wildlife sanctuary as an eco-sensitive zone. 

Officials in the state government said their rationale behind declaring just a 100-metre radius as eco sensitive zone was to facilitate the implementation of "planned development", based on a master plan already made for the area.

Source: The Tribune, Chandigarh