Buffer zone impact assessment drags on even as SC deadline nears

A road passing through a forest area in Kerala.

Thiruvananthapuram: A bid to assess the ramifications of the recent Supreme Court order envisaging one kilometre of Eco-Sensitivity Zone (ESZ) or buffer zone around all protected forests is delayed in Kerala. Even as the three-month period allowed by the apex court to file the report in this regard is set to expire in another 19 days, the study has been completed only in nine of the 23 wildlife sanctuaries in Kerala.

The Kerala Forest Department commenced a study to assess the impact on human settlements, but the process has not even reached halfway through, even after two-and-a-half months.

The Supreme Court directed on June 3 that there should be a 1 km buffer zone around all wildlife sanctuaries and national parks. The SC ordered the States to submit a report within three months after studying how the ESZ would impact the inhabited areas around these regions.

Although the study should have started with immediate effect considering the gravity of the directive, there has been a delay in the proceedings on the part of the Kerala Government.

A month went in vain

The Kerala State Remote Sensing and Environment Centre (KSREC) under the Planning and Economic Affairs department of the State Government was entrusted with carrying out the study in 23 protected forest regions in Kerala. However, the Forest Department and the KSREC entered an agreement on this only on July 11, almost a month after the SC directive.

It is doubtful whether the report can be filed after completing the study in the rest of the 14 sanctuaries within the next 19 days. If not, it may badly affect the proceedings in the apex court.

"Hope the Central Government allowed more time to complete the study and comes up with a favourable decision. Kerala had conducted a study before the SC order and had submitted the report to the Central Government. In the wake of the court's direction, sittings were already conducted in three regions. The survey would be completed as soon as possible," stated Kerala Forests Minister A K Saseendran.

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