As heated debates on buffer zones rage across the forest-fringe settlements in Kerala, the confusion on the impact of the buffer zone markings and resettlement reigns supreme among the residents in forest covered village at Gavi.
About the Gavi Forests:
Gavi is an Eco-Tourism project of the Kerala Forest Development Corporation located in the Pathanamthitta district, Kerala.
Gavi is inside the Ranni reserve forest. Gavi is a part of Seethathode Panchayath in Ranni Taluk.
Gavi is part of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, and the route can be covered by car from Vandiperiyar.
The forests offer its visitors activities like trekking, wildlife watching, outdoor camping in specially built tents, and night safaris.
Species found: The mammals include elephant, tiger, Indian giant squirrel, jungle cat, sloth bear, Nilgiri tahr and barking dear among others.
Gavi is also home to over 150 species of butterflies and 40 species of reptiles. The forest also has 140 species of orchids and 170 species of grass.
What are Eco-sensitive zones?
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 are to be notified as eco-fragile zones or Eco-sensitive Zones.
However, the general rule of a 10km boundary may vary depending on the ecology of the land.
Areas beyond 10 km can also be notified by the Union government as ESZs, if they hold larger ecologically important “sensitive corridors”.
Judgements regarding the Eco-sensitive zones:
The Supreme Court order on June 3, 2022, to create a one-kilometre Eco-sensitive Zone (ESZ) within the boundaries of all wildlife sanctuaries, protected forest lands and national parks has been mounting protests and criticism in the hilly regions of Kerala.
A three-judge bench of Justices L NageswaraRao, BR Gavai and Aniruddha Bose pronounced the judgement in a petition seeking the protection of forest lands in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu.
The judgement referred to the guidelines on buffer zones issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) of the Government of India on February 9, 2011.
If the existing ESZ goes beyond the one-kilometre buffer zone or if any statutory instrument prescribes a higher limit, then such an extended boundary shall prevail.
The issue in Kerala:
The total extent of the wildlife sanctuaries in Kerala is eight lakh acres.
If one km of ESZ is demarcated from their boundaries, around 4 lakh acres of human settlements, including farmlands, would come within that purview and that would be a matter of sheer survival of lakhs of people.
Due to the high density of human population around the forest lands, politicians and people are demanding that human settlements must be exempted from it.