Ironically, the state-appointed district-level committees, constituted to do almost the same thing, are yet to submit their reports. The reports are expected on October 31. The committees, constituted to delineate eco-sensitive zones for protected areas, have been appointed on directives of the Supreme Court.
Sources in the Cabinet said that the issue of the buffer zone was discussed at a recent Cabinet meeting where the ministers settled for a 1 km buffer zone after long deliberations.
Forest minister Alina Saldanha differed from the Cabinet’s final decision; she preferred a 2 km protective cover for wildlife sanctuaries and the one national park which are contiguous. “The buffer zone is not only to protect flora and fauna in the protected areas but also for future generations,” she said.
Considering the presence of habitations near the Bondla and Chorao protected areas, the eco-sensitive zone could be less than 1 km, she felt. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court-appointed central empowered committee (CEC) had classified protected areas across the country into four categories, based on their size, and had suggested buffer zones varying from 2 km to 100 m.
Since most of Goa’s protected areas inevitably fall within the 1 km to 100 m buffer zone, environmental activists had flayed the move, worried that protected areas in the state would be left vulnerable to encroachments.
Based on the CEC classification, parks above 500 sq km would fall under category A with a safety zone of 2 km from boundary. Under category B (between 200 & 500 sq km) the buffer zone recommended is 1 km from the boundary; while categories C (between 100 and 200 sq km) and D (up to 100 sq km) have a buffer zone of 500 m and 100 m respectively.
Environmentalists are skeptical about the state cabinet’s recommendation being of any significance, as the committees to delineate eco-sensitive zones for protected areas are yet to submit their reports. They are demanding a 10 km buffer zone for the protected areas, but a few are prepared to compromise for a smaller area, though more than 2 km. They are not averse to a 100 m buffer zone for the Salim Ali bird sanctuary as a bigger one is not feasible due to habitations on Chorao island.