Expert panel on buffer zone submits report; Kerala hopeful about favourable Supreme Court verdict

According to government officials, the report would help Kerala explain to the court the practical difficulties in declaring a one-km buffer zone around protected forests in the state as these areas are thickly populated. Representative image/Manorama.

Thiruvananthapuram: An expert panel headed by Justice Thottathil B Radhakrishnan has submitted its report on the buffer issue to the Kerala Government. The state government is hopeful that the Supreme Court, which is currently considering a case related to buffer zones around protected forest areas, would allow the report to be presented before it.

According to government officials, the report would help Kerala explain to the court the practical difficulties in declaring a one-km buffer zone around protected forests in the state as these areas are thickly populated. The apex court’s stand that it would consider the petitions filed by the Centre and Kerala together to offer exemptions to the buffer zone stipulation gives further optimism to the state.

Earlier, the court had directed Kerala to submit a report based on satellite survey within three months. However, the state took five months to complete the task. Kerala has already presented three reports before the court over the issue, including one based on a preliminary satellite survey. Even then, the report of a field survey is yet to be submitted.

The three reports submitted by Kerala are, a Forest Department map of 2020-21; a report prepared after a site visit and another map of the Forest Department based on a satellite survey. These reports were presented to Central Empowered Committee as well as the Supreme Court. Kerala has urged the court to consider its map of 2020-21 to exempt inhabited areas from buffer zone limits.

Scrutiny of report

The expert panel report was submitted to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan by Additional Chief Secretary for Forests K R Jyothilal – who is also the convener of the panel - in the presence of Forest Minister A K Saseendran.

The report prepared by Justice Radhakrishnan will now be examined by an official team headed by Chief Secretary of Kerala V P Joy and handed over to the Chief Wildlife Warden.

Subsequently, it would be passed on to Kerala’s standing counsel in the Supreme Court after seeking legal opinion from the Advocate General.

The court would initially consider the case filed by the Centre before taking up Kerala’s plea.

No need for anxiety: Minister
Meanwhile, the Forest Minister said that the state government will not evict anyone from their homes over the buffer zone issue. “The expert panel has collected the necessary evidence to prove before the Supreme Court that inhabited areas exist in a one-km radius of protected forests. Conveying this matter to the court is only a procedural matter and farmers in these areas need not be concerned,” said Saseendran.

70,582 buildings in buffer zones
As per data collected by the state government, there are 70,582 constructions, including houses, in a one-km radius around protected forests across Kerala. The figures related to each protected area are:
Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary, Kannur: 3,405.
Kottiyoor Wildlife Sanctuary, Kannur: 1,112
Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary: 20,045
Malabar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kozhikode: 3,871
Karimbizha Wildlife Sanctuary, Malappuram: 77
Silent Valley National Park, Palakkad: 909

Choolannur Peacock Sanctuary, Palakkad: 2,726

Peechi-Vazhani Wildlife Sanctuary, Thrissur: 4,463.

Chimmini Wildlife Sanctuary, Thrissur: 2,034

Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary, Palakkad: 1,161

Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary, Ernakulam: 1,003

Eravikulam National Park, Idukki: 688

Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, Idukki: 762

Anamudi Shola National Park, Idukki: 1,833

Kurinjimala Wildlife Sanctuary, Idukki: 1,416

Pambadum Shola National Park, Idukki: 79

Mathikettan Shola National Park, Idukki: 1,044

Mangalavanam Bird Santuary, Ernakulam: 2,539

Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary: 5,745

Periyar Tiger Reserve (Idukki): 8,507

Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary, Kollam: 2,152

Neyyar-Peppara Sanctuaries, Thiruvananthapuram: 5,011

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