In News: Kerala farmers living along the Western Ghats have been protesting a June 3 directive of the Supreme Court for setting up buffer or eco-sensitive zones (ESZ) for all protected forests in the country.
The Supreme Court order
- A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, in its order on June 3, said national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and such protected forests must have an ESZ of minimum 1-km from their boundaries.
- The court said the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MEF & CC) in 2011, which have either banned or regulated a bunch of activities within the ESZ, should be strictly adhered to.
- The proceedings that led to the June 3 SC order originated from a 1995 PIL moved by T N Godavarman Thirumulpad, a native of Nilambur in Kerala’s Malappuram, seeking protection of forest lands in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu.
- Later, the court widened the scope of the petition in such a manner to protect natural resources throughout the country.
Kerala forests, protected areas and the verdict implications for Kerala
- Kerala has 23 protected forest areas, of which 12 are wildlife sanctuaries, 3 bird sanctuaries, five national parks and two tiger reserves.
- Kerala’s forest cover, as per data available from 2019-20, is 11,521 square km, which forms 65 per cent of the state’s total geographical area.
- This ratio of forest to total geographical areas is much higher than the national average of 6.09 per cent.
- The state’s forest cover has also been going up with an increase of 823 square km from 2017.
- Thus the verdict would affect one lakh families, 2.50 lakh acres of agricultural land and two dozen townships.
- Farmers are concerned as inclusion of human settlements with ESZ would hit their life and economic activities.
What are Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs)?
- Eco-Sensitive Zones or Ecologically Fragile Areas are areas within 10 kms around Protected Areas, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.
- ESZs are notified by MoEFCC, Government of India under Environment Protection Act, 1986
- Ecologically important patches, crucial for landscape linkage, even area beyond 10 km width can also be included in the eco-sensitive zone.
- The basic aim is to regulate certain activities around National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries so as to minimise the negative impacts of such activities on the fragile ecosystem encompassing the protected areas.
Activities Allowed in ESZs
- 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.
- Regulated activities: Felling of trees, establishment of hotels and resorts, commercial use of natural water, erection of electrical cables, drastic change of agriculture system, e.g. adoption of heavy technology, pesticides etc, widening of roads.
- Permitted activities: Ongoing agricultural or horticultural practices, rainwater harvesting, organic farming, use of renewable energy sources, adoption of green technology for all activities.
Source: Indian Express