The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) Opposition has expressed doubts over the efficacy of the Kerala government's decision to exempt homes, farms, and civic offices from the scope of the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) prescribed by the Supreme Court within the 1-km radius of 23 protected wetlands, forests and national parks in Kerala.
Leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan claimed the government order (GO) lacked clarity. It accorded no relief to a sizeable segment of Kerala's population, including settler farmers. Instead, the Cabinet order has pushed lakhs of families living near protected areas deeper into the abyss of uncertainty.
Mr. Satheesan said the Cabinet decision had no weight unless the government nullified its "erroneous" 2019 order that "thoughtlessly" permitted a 1-km buffer zone around the perimeter of the protected areas.
He said the 2019 order paved the way for the Supreme Court's decision. However, self-conceit prevented the government from admitting its mistake and nullifying the order.
Mr. Satheesan said the 2019 order prevailed. It could hamper the government's move to approach the Supreme Court via a modification petition and the Central Empowered Committee for an exemption.
Situation in T.N.
Mr. Satheesan had said that Kerala should take a cue from the neighbouring Tamil Nadu. The State had protected its interests by seeking complete immunity from the ESZ. In contrast, the Kerala government's "callous handling" of the issue had precipitated an almost existential crisis for lakhs of households.
The issue has immense political ramifications for both fronts in the State. For one, forests accounted for more than 30% of the State's geographical area. The Supreme Court order had precipitated civic unrest in Wayanad and Idukki districts. The forest cover in both the districts exceeds 70%. The densely forested Western Ghats region in Kerala covered 48% of the State's landmass. By a conservative estimate, the density of population in localities abutting wetlands is nearly 900 people a km.
Many fear that the ESZ in its current form could displace lakhs, upend their livelihood, halt development and erase farmlands across large swathes of Kerala.
Mr. Satheesan also did not buy the government's argument that the 2019 decision had no bearing on the SC's order. He also disputed Forest Minister A.K. Saseendran's claim that the order, now "irrelevant", would not hurt Kerala's prospects of gaining exemption from the ESZ.