The Supreme Court on Wednesday, modified its judgment to have mandatory eco-sensitive zones (ESZ) of a minimum one kilometre around protected forests, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the country.
A Bench led by Justice B.R. Gavai reasoned that ESZ cannot be uniform across the country and has to be “protected area-specific”.
On June 3, 2022, the apex court had ordered the 1-km buffer zone for protected areas to act as a “shock absorber”.
However, the Centre and several States, including Kerala, had returned to the apex court seeking modification of the June 2022 judgment, saying the judicial direction affected hundreds of villages in the peripheries of forests.
Agreeing, the court said “the purpose of declaring ESZs is not to hamper the day-to-day activities of the citizens. If the direction as issued is continued, it would certainly hamper the day-to-day activities of the citizens residing in ESZs. As such, we find that the direction needs to be modified”.
The court said a stringent observance of the June 2022 judgment would cause more harm than good. For one, man-animal conflict would only increase rather than abate.
“A villager who is desirous to reconstruct his house would not be permitted… If the government decides to construct schools, dispensaries, anganwadis, village stores, water tanks and other basic structures for improvement of the life of the villagers, the same would not be permitted. State or the Central government would be prevented from constructing roads. It will be impossible for forest departments to conduct eco-development activities around national parks and sanctuaries… Centrally sponsored Scheme-Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats, which includes assistance for eco-development activities, would come to a standstill… It would also affect certain projects of national and strategic importance such as construction of national highways, railways, defence-related infrastructure, etc.,” the court observed.
However, the court made it clear that “mining within the national park and wildlife sanctuary and within an area of one kilometre from the boundary of such national park and wildlife sanctuary shall not be permissible”.