ESZ: How Kerala will demarcate human habitations without defining them

Thiruvananthapuram: Even as the Kerala government has been reiterating its demand that the Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs) — or buffer zones — around protected forests, including national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, should exclude human habitations, the State Forest Department has not yet clearly defined such human-populated areas.

This was revealed in a reply to an application the Kerala Independent Farmers' Association (KIFA) had filed to the office of the Accountant General (AG)'s office under the Right to Information Act (RTI).

The AG's office forwarded the application to the Forest Department on July 22. The department responded to KIFA on August 5.

The delay in defining human habitations has been seen as a failure on the part of the Forest Department, despite moving the Supreme Court on the ESZ issue.

Interestingly, the department has been communicating constantly with the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) regarding the creation of buffer zones.

The State has also approached the Supreme Court seeking a review of its June 3 order, directing all States to have a mandatory ESZ of minimum one kilometre from the demarcated boundaries of protected forests.

All these have been done without defining 'human habitations'.

State to define later
"We will inform the Supreme Court that human habitation will be defined later if the court asks for it.

The Forest Department views areas where people have been living as human habitations. Residential areas and commercial centres will come under human habitations," Minister for Forests and Wildlife Protection A K Saseendran explained the State's stand.

Tough questions ahead
In its review petition filed before the apex court, the State requested the exclusion of human habitations from buffer zones, and ESZs should not be uniform, but be finalised based on the peculiarities of each area.

While pointing out the sense of insecurity and fear the order has created among people, Kerala contested that the verdict would affect the people's right to live and would impact Kerala severely.

The State would be in a fix if the court demands to know how it would demarcate human habitations. The central government's high-power committee, too, might ask Kerala how it has defined such habitations.

Additionally, the State government has not yet repealed its 2019 order to create buffer zones of one kilometre from the demarcated boundaries of protected forests before approaching the Centre and the Supreme Court.  

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