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Eco-Sensitive Zones and protests in Kerala against them

  • Published
    25th Jun, 2022

Eco-Sensitive Zone:

  • The Eco Sensitive Zones are envisaged as a cushion or shock absorbers for protected areas.
  • They are supposed to act as the transition zones from areas of high protection to less protection. 
  • They are notified by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India around Protected Areas, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. 
  • As per the National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016), issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, land within 10 km of the boundaries of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries is to be notified as eco-fragile zones or Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZ).
  • They are like an ecotone- the transition between two biological communities or ecosystems, and it is crucial for the protection of protected areas like wildlife sanctuaries and forests.
  • Its aim is to reduce the impact of human intervention in the core protected area.

ESZ Guidelines classify activities under three categories:

  • Prohibited:Commercial Mining, Setting of Saw Mill, Setting of industries causing pollution, establishment of major hydroelectric projects etc.
  • Regulated:Felling of Trees, Establishment of hotels and resorts, erection of electrical cables, drastic change of agricultural systems etc.
  • Permitted: Ongoing agriculture and horticulture practices by local communities, rain water harvesting, organic farming etc.

What is the recent SC judgment?

  • The court while referring to the 2011 guidelines as “reasonable”, has directed all states to have a mandatory 1-km ESZ from the demarcated boundaries of every protected forest land, national park and wildlife sanctuary.
  • The role of the State is more relevant today, than, possibly, at any point of time in history with the threat of climate catastrophe resulting from global warming looming large
  • The State has to act as a trusteefor the benefit of the general public in relation to the natural resources so that sustainable development could be achieved in the long term.
  • The court directed that “mining within the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries shall not be permitted”.
  • The court held that in case any national park or protected forest already has a buffer zone extending beyond one km, which would prevail.
  • The Principal Chief Conservator for each State and the Union Territory has also been directed to make a list of subsisting structures within the ESZs and submit reports to the apex court in three months.

Why are people protesting against it?

  • Protests erupted across the high ranges of Kerala in response to the apex court’s directions.
  • Due to the high density of human population near the notified protected areas, farmer’s groups and political parties have been demanding that all human settlements be exempt from the ESZ ruling.
  • It has been claimed by the farmer associations that the court’s decision would severely impact the livelihoods of farmers.
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