Human habitats, agricultural lands to be exempted; new order on buffer zone

Representative image. File Photo.

Thiruvananthapuram: The state government has approved the amendment recommendations submitted to the Centre to exempt human habitats, agricultural land, and government institutions from the purview of the directive to earmark a one-km buffer zone around every protected forest, national park, and wildlife sanctuary in the state.

With the cabinet approving the recommendations of the Forest department and issuing an order in this regard, an earlier 2019 order that unconditionally transformed a one-km stretch around the 23 wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in the state as an ecologically sensitive zone (ESG) in effect stands cancelled.

The order was issued even as the state government is set to move the Supreme Court with a review petition against its recent directive to earmark a one-km buffer zone around protected forest areas. Now the apex court will take a final decision on the matter.

The state government, in October 2019, in principle, approved a draft notification directive to designate up to one km around protected areas, including human settlements adjacent to the protected forests and national parks, as eco-sensitive areas.

However, when the Centre issued an ordinance based on the state’s draft recommendations on the ecologically sensitive zone, there arose a demand from various quarters to exempt human habitations from the purview of the directive. A meeting chaired by the Forest minister in 2020 decided to exempt human habitats from the buffer zone and submitted the recommendations to the Centre.

But the Supreme Court, on June 3, issued an order directing the states to earmark a one-km buffer zone around protected forest areas. This comes even as the Kerala government’s recommendation to completely cancel buffer zone notification in such areas with high population density and to designate a one-km area around other protected areas as a buffer zone was under the consideration of the Ministry of Forest, Environment, and Climate Change.

The apex court order said any relaxation to the regulation would be allowed only on the basis of the recommendations submitted by the Ministry of Forest and Environment and that of the central high-power committee on a larger interest.

The SC directive has given rise to apprehensions that many human settlements will be affected. With regard to Kerala, there are several human habitats around wildlife sanctuaries. The state government made an assessment that law and order would be affected if it started evicting people from such habitats based on the court order.

The government informed the assembly that it was trying to find a solution without affecting the people. The latest issuance of the order approving the amendment recommendations submitted to the Centre is part of these efforts. The state also entrusted the Forest department to approach the Supreme Court with a review petition.

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