The National Wildlife Action Plan, 2002-16, stipulated that state governments should declare land falling within 10 kilometres of the boundaries of national parks and sanctuaries as eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. In 2012, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) declared an area between Gaumukh to Uttarkashi, spread over 4,179.56 square kilometres, including 88 villages, an ESZ called Bhagirathi. According to guidelines, activities such as commercial mining and the establishment of sawmills and industries causing pollution are prohibited in such areas. It also prohibits tourism activities like flying over protected areas in an aircraft or in a hot air balloon and discharge of effluents and solid waste in natural water bodies or terrestrial areas. Felling of trees, drastic change in agriculture systems and commercial use of natural water resources, including groundwater harvesting and setting up of hotels and resorts, are also regulated in these areas. The total area of Uttarkashi is 7,951 square kilometres. Of this, 3,347 square kilometres have already been declared a protected area. With the inclusion of Bhagirathi, 80 per cent of the land in Uttarkashi would come under a protected area, and only 3.5 per cent of land would be left for agricultural activities. Besides, agriculture, animal husbandry and development activities will also be affected. Hence the local people are against the proposed ESZ. Dehradun-based social activist Avdhash Kaushal threatened to launch an agitation against the 2012 notification, arguing that because of the ESZ status Uttarakhand has to spend nearly INR 1,000 crore every year to buy electricity as no new hydroelectricity projects are allowed. He contended that instead of a blanket ban, the rules should allow construction and commercial activities on the hill slope subject to environmental approval, no loss of green areas and no damage to water resources. After years of protests by environmentalists and objections by the Uttarakhand government that the notification was 'anti-development, on April 16, 2018, the MoEFCC amended it. The ministry allowed the development of tourist resorts and commercial complexes in Bhagirathi. Tourist resorts and commercial complexes shall be located in areas with surplus water and electricity, in consultation with Village Assemblies and existing users and with due approval of the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority, says the new notification.
Demand/Contention of the Affected Community
Government Bodies Involved in the Conflict:
Forest Department, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change
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Other Parties Involved in the Conflict:
Sarv Aliya Sangharsh Samitee
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Out of Court
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