Pong dam Eco-sensitive zone

News Excerpt: 

The construction of the Pong embankment was completed in 1974, but those displaced by the construction are yet to be rehabilitated and are protesting the declaration of Pong Dam eco-sensitive zone (ESZ). 

Why Locals are protesting?

  • For more than five decades, over 25,000 individuals displaced by the Pong Dam on the Beas River in Himachal Pradesh have been awaiting relocation. Most of them sustained their livelihoods through farming in the dam vicinity. 
  • A draft policy suggesting the designation of the Pong Dam as an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) could pose a new challenge to displaced individuals who have been waiting for relocation. 
  • The declaration will affect the livelihood of millions of people, the residents said. It will also complicate the process of carrying out any development work in the region, leading to long delays.

PONG DAM

  • This reservoir has been constructed on the river Beas in the wet land of Shivalik hills of Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh.
  • It is also known as Pong reservoir or Pong Dam.This dam was built in 1975 named in honor of Maharana Pratap.
  • The reservoir stretches to an area of ​​24,529 hectares (60,610 acres), and part of the lakes is 15,662 hectares (38,700 acres).
  • Pong reservoir is the most important fish reservoir in the foothills of the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh.

Main Grievances: 

  • Locals said that the dam is filled with water for four months in a year. Once the water levels reduce, the residents carry out farming in the region. 
  • The locals are often harassed by wildlife conservationists, they alleged. 
  • The ESZ policy will impose more restrictions on these activities within a radius of 1-1.5 kilometers of the dam area.
  • This potential setback has prompted them to prepare for a protest against the decision by the Union Ministry of Forest, Environment, and Climate Change (MoEFCC).

What is Eco Sensitive Zone?

  • The National Environment Policy (2006) defined the Eco-Sensitive Zones “as areas/zones with identified environmental resources having incomparable values which require special attention for their conservation” because of its landscape, wildlife, biodiversity, historical and natural values.
  • In order to protect the environment and the biological integrity of the area outside the protected areas and other such areas where an ecosystem has been adversely affected due to anthropogenic and climatic factors, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has been declaring such areas as Eco-sensitive zones/ areas.
  • In other words, it is a type of designation of an area, which is rich in environmental resources and needs special protection.

Purpose:

  • Protect environment and avoid its degradation due to anthropogenic activities.
  • Create some kind of barrier/ shock absorber for the specialized ecosystem (PAs).
  • Act as transition zone from areas of higher protection to areas involving lesser protection.

Objective:

  • To maintain the response level of an ecosystem within the permissible limits w.r.t environmental parameters.
  • To notify the area as an Eco- sensitive zone and to regulate the developmental activities in a sustainable manner taking into consideration the needs and aspiration of the local people.

Ecological Importance of Pong Dam area: 

  • Pong Dam area is considered to be the resting place of hundreds of thousands of exotic birds every year and was declared a Ramsar Wetland Site in 2002 and notified as a wildlife sanctuary in 2013. 
  • Every year more than 100,000 birds migrate here from Central Asia, Mongolia, Siberia and China. Some of the birds that migrate here are bar-headed geese, gray light goose, common teal and cormorants.

Way forward: 

  • Overall, the situation surrounding the Pong Dam ESZ is complex and requires sensitive handling. 
  • The government should engage in genuine dialogue with the displaced people to address their concerns and find solutions that ensure both environmental protection and their well-being.

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