`Sammed Shikharji Row: Central govt stops tourism, eco-tourism activities at Parasnath hills

New Delhi/Ranchi: Following vociferous protests by Jains across the country the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate change put on hold all the tourism and ecotourism-related activities on Parasnath hills that cradle the Sammed Shikharji pilgrimage centre.

The ministry, in a press note, said that it has stayed clause 3 of the eco-sensitive zone notification for the Parasnath wildlife sanctuary which speaks of allowing tourism and eco-tourism-related activities on the hills. The gazette notification said that all new eco-tourism activities or expansion of existing tourism activities within the Eco-sensitive Zone shall be as per the Tourism Master Plan for the Eco-sensitive Zone, which will be prepared by the State Department of Tourism in consultation with State Departments of Environment and Forests.

It also said that no new construction of hotels and resorts shall be allowed within one kilometre from the boundary of the protected area or upto the extent of the Eco-sensitive Zone whichever is nearer. Following a meeting with the representatives of the Jain community, the ministry has directed the Jharkhand government to strictly enforce the relevant provisions of the Management Plan of the Parasnath Wildlife Sanctuary that specifically prohibit damage to flora or fauna; coming with pet animals; playing loud music or use loudspeakers; defiling sites or religious and cultural significance such as, sacred monuments, lakes, rocks, caves, and shrines; and sale of liquor, drugs, and other intoxicants etc; unauthorized camping and trekking etc on the Parasnath Hill.

The Jharkhand Government has also been directed to strictly enforce the ban on the sale and consumption of liquor and non-vegetarian food items in Parasnath hills. Chief Minister Hemant Soren had also written a letter to Central Forest and Environment minister Bhupendra Yadav to act on the ecosensitive zone notification which allowed eco-tourism on Parasnath hills.

The environment ministry, in its note, said for effective monitoring of the provisions of the Eco Sensitive Zone notification under sub-section (3) of section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, the Central Government has constituted a Monitoring Committee under clause 5 of the said notification.

The State Government is directed to have two members from the Jain community and one member from the local Tribal community as Permanent Invitees to this Monitoring Committee, enabling appropriate involvement and oversight by important stakeholders.

The ministry said that over the last few days, it has received several representations from different organizations representing Jain Samaj about the issues related to certain activities taking place at Parasnath Wildlife Sanctuary that have adversely affected the sentiments of followers of Jain Dharma. “The grievances mention about the faulty implementation of provisions of the notification of Eco-Sensitive Zone of Parasnath Wildlife Sanctuary by Govt of Jharkhand. It has been mentioned that such negligence by state authorities has hurt their sentiments.

”Minister Bhupendra Yadav held a meeting with different representatives of the Jain Community for discussing the entire issue and also the possible solution. They were apprised that while the Parasnath Wildlife Sanctuary was established by the erstwhile State of Bihar in 1984 under the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the Eco Sensitive Zone (ESZ) was notified by the Government of India in consultation with the State Government of Jharkhand in 2019 under the provisions of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Eco-Sensitive Zones act as some kind of “shock absorbers” to the Protected Areas by prohibiting, regulating and promoting activities around Protected Areas.

ESZ notification is not intended to promote uncontrolled tourism, and definitely not to promote all kinds of development activities within a Sanctuary boundary. Declaration of ESZ is in fact to restrict or regulate activities surrounding the sanctuary and, therefore, outside its boundary, Yadav said.

Yadav reiterated that Sammed Shikharji Parvat Kshetra is a sacred Jain religious place not only for the Jain community but for the entire country, and the Ministry is committed to maintaining its sanctity.

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