Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary is a small, but important, protected area in Chengalpattu district, South of Chennai. It is the oldest waterfowl sanctuary in India and is home to more than 40,000 birds every winter, including many migrants and numerous rare species. A 1998 Government Order (GO MS 199) declared this lake area (73 acres / 29 ha) and a five-kilometre radius surrounding it a wildlife sanctuary under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
In March this year, the Tamil Nadu government proposed to reduce the buffer zone of the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary, from 5km to 3km, with only 1km of that to be the core zone, and 2km being only an eco-sensitive zone and the remaining denotified. The initial proposal is alleged to have termed the eco-sensitive zone as a denotified area.
In a communication from Mr. Shambhu Kallolikar, Principal Secretary, Govt of TN, to Member Secretary, NBWL, the Government of Tamil Nadu has sought the concurrence of the Government of India for its proposal to “reduce the buffer zone of Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary from 5 kms to 3 km in which first 1 km to be notified as Core Zone including main lake/tank and next 2 km boundary to be notified as buffer zone and to denotify the outer 2 km zone of the existing 5km.”
It has been alleged that this reduction has been proposed to facilitate commercial activities by Sun Pharmaceuticals, going by the MoEFCC forest clearance wildlife report and field reports by activists.
Change in Official Stance
The proposal was met with a vociferous social media campaign by activists and celebrities in Chennai, and beyond. Environmentalists, via a virtual press conference and a letter, called out the Tamil Nadu Forest Department on the proposal, and condemned its senior officers ‘for putting out false information that the demarcation was being done on the basis of the Central government asking all sanctuaries to demarcate zones as core zone for the first kilometre, buffer zone for the next two and the outer two kilometres as the eco-sensitive zone’.
Subsequently, the Tamil Nadu Forest Department came out with a statement denying the proposal. It issued a press release stating that since 2009, based on the Centre’s directions, the five-kilometre area of the sanctuary has been demarcated as core zones (one km), buffer zones and eco-sensitive zones (two km each), respectively. The government’s statement said that the five-kilometre radius will be protected as-is. The release reiterated that the area falls under the purview of the Wildlife Protection Act, Forest Conservation Act, and the Environmental Protection Act, and will continue to do so.
Sun Pharma issued a issued a statement as well, stating that the the company is not buying any additional land either near the plant or inside the sanctuary.
With the Forest Department clarification, the key open question on this saga is this: what is the status of the areas allocated to the core, buffer and eco-sensitive zones? The FD needs to address the valid concerns raised by citizens, and reconsider its proposal.