Deadline today to register complaints against buffer zone

Kozhikode's Chakkittapara is the only panchayat that has completed the field survey and uploaded the details online. Representational image/File Photo.

Thiruvananthapuram:  The deadline to register complaints against errors and omissions in the tentative map of the buffer zones or Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs) adjoining protected forests in Kerala ends today, (Jan 7).

The Forest Department has so far received over 54,000 complaints through panchayat help desks.

As of Saturday morning, a total of 54,607 complaints were received, out of which 17,054 were settled and 18,496 uploaded on Asset Mapper app. 

The deadline for including structures that have been excluded from the preliminary report on the satellite survey too is 5 pm today. 
The Forest department has stated that after the deadline, complaints would not be accepted either through email or directly and that physical verification of the lands would continue in the coming days.

Field survey still on 

A technical snag that hit the Asset Mapper app of the Kerala State remote Sensing and Environment Centre (KSRSEC) that is used for uploading details collected from the verification of lands affected the manual inspection of lands on Friday. Since the manual survey of lands was cancelled in the districts owing to this reason, the details of new constructions could not be recorded. 

The inspection of human habitations in areas coming under the ecologically sensitive zones that was carried out by the departments of Forest-Revenue-Local Self-Government on Thursday found 64,000 new constructions. These details were uploaded on the draft map of the Forest department using the Asset Mapper app. 
The app had developed the snag from Thursday evening.

Although a new hard disk was installed in the server of the KSRSEC by 2am the app became functional only by 11am.  

The Forest department has clarified that the functioning of the app was disrupted as the server went down after many people logged in at the same time.

31 more panchayats yet to upload data
Thirty-one panchayats have not uploaded the complaints till now.

Kozhikode's Chakkittapara is the only panchayat that has completed the field survey and uploaded the details on the app. The rest of the panchayats have asked for more time.

In many panchayats, only training for uploading the details were provided.  In districts like Idukki, only 65% of the physical verification could be completed.  

On December 12, panchayats were directed to carry out the manual survey of lands as soon as possible. 

The panchayats had deployed more personnel in order to complete the verification in a short time.

SC date nears

The Chief Minister had said earlier that the report would be submitted to the Supreme Court before January 11 after completing all the formalities, including the physical verification of the areas.

Help desks were set up in 80 panchayats to address public's concerns over the anomalies in the tentative map of the buffer zones adjoining protected forests. A total number of 85 panchayats have been designated as buffer zones or ESZs. The Supreme Court will consider petitions on buffer zone on January 11.

The Kerala government will reportedly seek a three-month extension from Supreme Court to submit details of buildings that come under the buffer zone. The government has already made the list of buildings crucial for the local people’s livelihood.

What led to the survey?
A Supreme Court order on June 3, 2022 mandated that every protected area in the country should have an ESZ of at least 1 km. The order, which necessitated such a survey, marked the culmination of two reports filed by the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) set up by the Supreme Court in 2002, one in November 2003 and the second in September 2012.

The 2003 report was specific to one protected area. It detailed the horrific manner in which Rajasthan's Jamwa Ramgarh Wildlife Sanctuary was being ravaged by mining activity.

Soon it became evident that mining was degrading forests across the country, not just in Jamwa Ramgarh. The 2012 CEC report, after taking into account the fast-spreading menace of mining, pitched for ESZs for all protected forests in the country.

By then, in 2011, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) had published guidelines for the declaration of ESZs.

The June 3, 2022, order, which draws inspiration from the 2012 CEC report and ratified the 2011 MOEF&CC guidelines, directed the states to quickly draw up a list of what it termed "subsistence structures" within the 1-km stretch surrounding PAs.

It wanted the list submitted within three months, before September 3.

What are prohibited in ESZ?
The concept of ESZs emphasises regulation over prohibition.

Within an ESZ, human activities will be divided into three: prohibited, restricted with safeguards and permissible. Of around 30 major human interventions only eight are prohibited. The rest are either allowed with safeguards or permitted.

The prohibited activities are: commercial mining (not mining for personal purposes like digging the earth to construct houses or for the manufacture of tile or bricks), setting of saw mills, setting up polluting industries, commercial use of firewood (applicable only for hotels and other business establishments, not houses), major hydroelectric projects, tourism using aircraft or hot-air balloons, use or production of hazardous substances, and discharge of effluents and solid waste in water bodies and nearby areas.

Even widening of roads or groundwater harvesting or felling of trees are allowed, but with safeguards.

No permission is required to carry out agriculture activities or to adopt renewable energy sources or for rainwater harvesting or to even construct or repair houses.

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