Eco-sensitive zone | SC indicates it may consider taking up Kerala’s review

A Bench led by Justice B.R. Gavai said the court would wait for the Centre's application to come up for hearing.

October 14, 2022 04:48 pm | Updated 04:48 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. File

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. File | Photo Credit: PTI

The Supreme Court on October 14, 2022 indicated it may consider taking up Kerala's review of the Supreme Court's judgment to have a one-km eco-sensitive zone ringing protected forests, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the country along with a plea for clarification sought by the Centre.

A Bench led by Justice B.R. Gavai said the court would wait for the Centre's application to come up for hearing. It was responding to an oral mentioning made by advocate Nishe Rajen Shonker, for Kerala, about the State's review petition.

The Centre has sought a clarification on certain paragraphs in the court's verdict, including the fate of building activities pre-dating the judgment.

The review by Kerala has argued that the judgment would lead to massive displacement of people living in the vicinity of forest areas.

Even worse, the judgment would strip thousands of Scheduled Tribe families and forest dwellers of their vested rights under the law.

"As on May 31, 2022, a total of 26,867 individual rights titles covering an extent of 35521.19 acres, 495 development rights covering an area of 181.33 acres and 183 community rights titles have been issued by the state under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006," Kerala has submitted.

The Act recognises the traditional forest dwellers' rights and occupation of forest land since generations. The law also provides for development rights to forest dwellers like schools, anganwadis, fair price shops, drinking water supply, vocational training centres, etc.

Kerala noted that its population density was twice that of the entire country as per the 2011 census.

"Human habitations are there in the areas coming within one km of the protected areas," the review petition said.

Large number of small and medium townships with human habitations and attendant facilities had developed, decades ago, within the vicinity of the protected areas and within the proposed buffer zone of one km.

Further, the judgment would affect the assignment of entire parcels of land by the state under the Kerala Land Assignment (Regularisation of Occupations of Forest Lands Prior to 01-1-1977) Special Rules of 1993.

In June, the apex court, in its judgment, referred to Environment Ministry guidelines highlighting that ESZs around national parks, forests and sanctuaries would function as 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.

The apex court had noted how the nation’s national resources were ravaged for years together by mining and other activities.

The judgment had observed that the government should not confine its role to that of a “facilitator” of economic activities for the “immediate upliftment of the fortunes of the State”.

The court said the government had to act as a trustee for the benefit of the general public in relation to the natural resources so that sustainable development could be achieved in the long term.

The judgment came in a petition instituted for the protection of forest lands in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu.

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