From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Eco-sensitive Zones (ESZs)
Mains level : Not Much
The Supreme Court has indicated that it may consider taking up Kerala’s review of the Supreme Court’s judgment to have a 1km eco-sensitive zone ringing protected forests, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the country.
What are the Eco-sensitive Zones (ESZs)?
- Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs) or Ecologically Fragile Areas (EFAs) are areas notified by the MoEFCC around Protected Areas, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.
- The purpose of declaring ESZs is to create some kind of “shock absorbers” to the protected areas by regulating and managing the activities around such areas.
- They also act as a transition zone from areas of high protection to areas involving lesser protection.
How are they demarcated?
- The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 does NOT mention the word “Eco-Sensitive Zones”.
- However, Section 3(2)(v) of the Act, says that Central Government can restrict areas in which any industries, operations or processes or class of industries, operations or processes shall be carried out or shall not, subject to certain safeguards.
- Besides Rule 5(1) of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 states that central government can prohibit or restrict the location of industries and carrying on certain operations or processes on the basis of certain considerations.
- The same criteria have been used by the government to declare No Development Zones (NDZs).
Defining its boundaries
- An ESZ could go up to 10 kilometres around a protected area as provided in the Wildlife Conservation Strategy, 2002.
- Moreover, in the case where sensitive corridors, connectivity and ecologically important patches, crucial for landscape linkage, are beyond 10 km width, these should be included in the ESZs.
- Further, even in the context of a particular Protected Area, the distribution of an area of ESZ and the extent of regulation may not be uniform all around and it could be of variable width and extent.
Activities Permitted and Prohibited
- Permitted: Ongoing agricultural or horticultural practices, rainwater harvesting, organic farming, use of renewable energy sources, and adoption of green technology for all activities.
- Prohibited: Commercial mining, saw mills, industries causing pollution (air, water, soil, noise etc), the 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.
- Under regulation: Felling of trees, the 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.
What is the recent SC judgment that has caused an uproar in Kerala?
- On June 3, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court heard a PIL that sought to protect forest lands in the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu, but was later expanded to cover the entire country.
- In its judgment, the court while referring to the 2011 guidelines as “reasonable”, directed all states to have a mandatory 1-km ESZ from the demarcated boundaries of every protected area.
- It also stated that no new permanent structure or mining will be permitted within the ESZ.
- If the existing ESZ goes beyond 1-km buffer zone or if any statutory instrument prescribes a higher limit, then such extended boundary shall prevail, the court, as per the Live Law report, said.
Why are people protesting against it?
- There is a 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.
- 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.