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Kerala Government views on Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZs)

  • Published
    8th Jul, 2022
Context

The Kerala Legislative Assembly passed a resolution requesting the Centre to exempt inhabited places and agricultural lands in the state as eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) around protected areas.

About
  • The resolution was moved in the wake of a Supreme Court order of directing that each protected forest, including national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, must have an ESZ of atleast one km and banning of mining activities within such parks across the nation.
  • In the resolution, the State government said that in view of the peculiar circumstances in the southern state, which has a population density of over 900 persons per sq km and limited amount of habitable land.
  • There was a need to completely exempt inhabited places and agricultural areas from the ESZ.
  • It has also been requested that the central government should take necessary steps and issue a notification regarding the ESZ.

What are ESZs?

  • The National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) stipulated that state governments should declare land falling within 10 km of the boundaries of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries as eco fragile zones or Eco Sensitive Zones (ESZs).
  • It has been notified under the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • One km range is provided as a ‘Buffer zone’ in those areas where a 10 km range is not available for buffer zone.

What is Buffer Zone?

  • Buffer zones are designated areas used to protect sensitive landscape patches (e.g., wetlands, wildlife reserves) from negative external pressures.

 Purpose:

  • The purpose of declaring ESZs around national parks, forests and sanctuaries is to create some kind of a “shock absorber” for the protected areas.
  • These zones would act as a transition zone from areas of high protection to those involving lesser protection.
  • Prohibited activities:
  • Commercial mining, saw mills, industries causing pollution, establishment of major hydroelectric projects (HEP), commercial use of wood.
  • Tourism activities like hot-air balloons over the National Park discharge of effluents or any solid waste or production of hazardous substances.
  • Activities allowed:
  • On-going agriculture or horticultural practices, rainwater harvesting, organic farming, use of renewable energy sources, adoption of green technology for all activities.

What are Supreme Court’s Guidelines for ESZs?

  • The First Judgement came on a petition instituted for the protection of forest lands in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu.
  • The apex court had said that no permanent structure will be allowed within such zones.
  • It also mentioned that if the local law or other rules provide for an ESZ of more than one km buffer Zone, then the extended boundary should prevail.
  • The judgement would apply in all such states/UTs where the minimum ESZ is not prescribed.
  • The minimum width of ESZ may be diluted in the overwhelming ‘Public interest’.

Empowering Agencies

  • The state or UT concerned shall approach the Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) and MoEFCC (Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change) and both these bodies shall give the respective opinions or recommendations before this Court based on which the Court shall pass appropriate orders.
  • The Court directed the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) of each state and UT to submit a report in three months to the Court providing a list of activities continuing in the ESZ of every national park or wildlife sanctuary.

Issues and loopholes

  • In many states, protected areas do not have an ESZ of 10 km as specified by the Supreme Court.
  • Some have a buffer zone of a few hundred metres to one-km radius, while other states still have not notified an ESZ.
  • In cases where the ESZ notification is in the draft stage, a nod from NBWL is needed and can be applied for along with environmental clearance.
  • For example, the Jim Corbett National Park has not notified its ESZ, but its draft notification provides a buffer of 1 km, while Bandipur Tiger Reserve has notified an ESZ of 7.7 km radius. ESZ for other tiger reserves like Nagarhole, Biligiriranga Temple Sanctuary and Ranthambore haven’t been notified.
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