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Green endeavour in national parks

Guwahati, Oct. 8: New construction of hotels and resorts shall not be permitted within 1km from the boundary of Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park, according to the draft eco-sensitive zone notification of the park by the ministry of environment, forest and climate change.

Establishment of hotels and resorts has been classified as a regulated activity as per the draft eco-sensitive zone notified by the ministry and no new hotels and resorts shall be permitted except for accommodation for temporary occupation of tourists related to eco-tourism friendly activities.

A senior forest official said Orang is the first national park in the state whose eco-sensitive zone has been notified.

Orang with a total area of 79.28 square km is also called the miniature Kaziranga. The park has 100 rhinos as per 2012 census and 24 tigers (including four cubs) in 2013.

The ministry in its notification stated that the eco-sensitive zone is required as the national park has an exceptionally high density of tiger population, which needs secure corridors along the Brahmaputra up to Laokhowa wildlife sanctuary. The park is home to critically endangered species like Bengal florican and pygmy hog. "However, beyond 1km and up to the extent of the eco-sensitive zone, all new tourism activities or expansion of existing activities shall be in conformity with the tourism master plan," the notification said.

The activity relating to tourism within the eco-sensitive zone shall be according to tourism master plan, which shall form part of the zonal master plan.

Sources said the purpose of declaring eco-sensitive zones around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries is to create some kind of "shock absorber". The activities in the eco-sensitive zone would be of a regulatory nature rather than prohibitive. The width of the eco-sensitive zones and the type of regulations will differ from one protected area to the other.

For Orang, the eco-sensitive zone will vary from 3km to 25km from its boundary. Darrang and Sonitpur districts share the park.

The state government, for the purpose of the eco-sensitive zone, shall prepare a zonal masterplan within a period of two years from the date of publication of final notification in the official gazette, in consultation with local people and adhering to the stipulations given in this notification.

The activities that have been prohibited are commercial mining, setting up of saw mills, use or production of any hazardous substances, setting up of industries causing water or noise pollution, establishment of new major thermal and hydroelectric projects, commercial use of firewood, undertaking activities related to tourism like flying over the national park by aircraft and hot-air balloons.

The activities which can be promoted are horticulture by local communities, along with dairies, organic farming, adoption of green technology, cottage industries, rainwater harvesting, small-scale industries and use of renewable energy sources.

The Centre has constituted a monitoring committee with Sonitpur deputy commissioner as the chairman for effective monitoring of the eco-sensitive zone.

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