Kalpetta: The lush green Wayanad, bordering the Deccan Plateau, is blessed with a rich and diverse wildlife sanctuary. The Wayanad wildlife sanctuary, spread over an area of 344 sq.km, is the second biggest sanctuary in Kerala. Rich in biodiversity, it houses rare and endangered species of a variety of flora and fauna. There are four forest ranges in Wayanad – Sulthan Bathery, Muthanga, Kurichiat and Tholpetty. A variety of large wild animals such as elephant, tiger and Indian bison are among those wild animals living in the sanctuary. There are also quite a few unusual birds including peafowl sighted in the sanctuary. It is bestowed with lush green forests and rich wildlife. Part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, the Wayanad wildlife sanctuary is bordered with Nagarhole and Bandipur in Karnataka and Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu. Majority of the farmers in the district form part of the second and third generation of farmers who had migrated from South Kerala. And many of them live and have plantations in the fringe areas of the forests. Thanks to the unchecked and bribe-supported business activities, there are legal as well as illegal quarries and mining in and around the forests. But now the Union Ministry of Forests & Environment have recently come up with a draft notification categorising specified areas around the sanctuary as Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ) The draft, published on January 28, has given 60 days for people to respond with complaints and suggestions. The ESZ, once official and in force, would put a full stop to all commercial and illegal activities now underway in and around the areas. No wonder, the farmer community, in support of the diocese and political organizations have expressed their displeasure over the notification. The Congress-led UDF has observed a dawn-to-dusk hartal in the district on Monday (Feb.8) And with the support of almost the entire settlers and the Vyapara Ekopana Samithi, the hartal was near-total also. According to the draft notification, an extent of zero to 3.4 kms around the wildlife sanctuary would fall under the ESZ. Many villages in the district border the sanctuary and hence many human settlements in the fringe areas would fall within the zone, it is pointed out. Once the ESZ is made official, strict norms would be in place in land utilization, constructions and business activities within the specified areas falling under the zone. No commercial and even tourism-related activities will be banned in the zone. Not only that no hydroelectric or drinking water projects would get a nod, felling of trees would also be highly restricted. The tussle is between the nature loving environmentalists and the business-oriented farming community. It is the need of the hour that the environment is protected and the ESZ come into being. Better late than never.