Disquiet on forest fringes over draft buffer zone map

According to the Forest Department notification, complaints regarding the draft map could be submitted by the public till January 7, 2023 | Photo: Manorama

Thiruvananthapuram: The publication of a draft map of a one-kilometre buffer zone around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries has give rise to widespread unease among people living on the fringes of forest in Kerala.

At Erumeli Panchayat in Kottayam district, residents took out a march to the Forest Department office on Friday after the Pampa Valley and Angel Valley wards were listed as buffer zones in the draft map as well as in the satellite survey conducted earlier. The protesters uprooted a display board of the Forest Department at Kulangarapadi and took it to the department’s office at Ezhukumon, where it was smeared with waste oil.

Similar protest marches took place at various areas in Idukki district also.

Meanwhile, after the Forest Department published the map early on Thursday, its office at Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram received around 2,000 complaints against the buffer zone in a single day. “Double this number of complaints is expected in the coming days,” said a Forest Department official. The figure crossed 14,500 till the early hours of Saturday.

The Forest Department has already started forwarding the complaints to the respective panchayats for conducting field visits as early as possible. Incidentally, the field visits started on Friday itself at some locations in Idukki district.

According to the Forest Department notification complaints regarding the draft map could be submitted by the public till January 7, 2023. The Chief Minister recently said that all procedures regarding the buffer zone would be completed by January 11.

The government also has to submit a report to the Supreme Court in this regard.

It was in June that the Supreme Court directed the setting up of buffer zones. The Kerala Government was slated to table a report before the apex court after the survey. Farmers, locals and other stakeholders have all alleged that the setting up of this 1 km buffer zone along protected forests will impact lakhs of families, besides religious and educational institutions. The Catholic Church has threatened an agitation to protect the interests of the people likely to be displaced by the creation of buffer zones.

The CPM-ruled Chakkittapara Panchayat in Kozhikode district is preparing its own buffer zone map to remove the ambiguity in the two maps published by the State Government so far demarcating buffer zones around the 22 wildlife sanctuaries.

Minister's promise
Forest Minister A K Saseendran said the other day the Government, too, wants to exclude human habitations from the buffer zone. “Maximum efforts will be initiated for this. The decision to start a satellite survey was made in the light of a recent Supreme Court order. The new decision was made following criticisms that the survey method was unscientific. These findings are published with the intention of enabling the public to air their opinions and complaints. We don’t expect accolades like watching a movie,” the minister had said.

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