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What are Eco-Sensitive Zones?


Farmers in Kerala continue to protest across several high ranges of the state against the Supreme Court’s recent order to establish 1-km Eco-Sensitive Zones around all protected areas, wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.


GS III- Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What are Eco-Sensitive Zones?
  2. How are they demarcated?
  3. Recent SC judgment that has caused an uproar in Kerala
  4. Why are people protesting against it?
  5. Have similar protests taken place before in Kerala?

What are Eco-Sensitive Zones?

  • Eco Sensitive Zones are fragile areas around protected areas declared by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
  • They are areas notified by the MoEFCC around Protected Areas, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.
  • The purpose of declaring ESZs is to create some kind of “shock absorbers” to the protected areas by regulating and managing the activities around such areas.
  • Among activities prohibited in the eco-sensitive zone are hydroelectric projects, brick kilns, commercial use of firewood and discharge of untreated effluents in natural water bodies or land areas.

  • No new commercial hotels and resorts shall be permitted within 1 km of the boundary of the protected area or up to the extent of the eco-sensitive zone, whichever is nearer, except for small temporary structures for eco-tourism activities.

Activities Allowed in ESZs

  • Prohibited activities: Commercial mining, saw mills, industries causing pollution (air, water, soil, noise etc), establishment of major hydroelectric projects (HEP), commercial use of wood, Tourism activities like hot-air balloons over the National Park, discharge of effluents or any solid waste or production of hazardous substances.
  • Regulated activities: Felling of trees, establishment of hotels and resorts, commercial use of natural water, erection of electrical cables, drastic change of agriculture system, e.g. adoption of heavy technology, pesticides etc, widening of roads.
  • Permitted activities: Ongoing agricultural or horticultural practices, rainwater harvesting, organic farming, use of renewable energy sources, adoption of green technology for all activities.

How are they demarcated?

  • The term “Eco-Sensitive Zones” is not mentioned in the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986.
  • Section 3(2)(v) of the Act, on the other hand, states that the Central Government has the authority to limit the areas in which any industry, operation, or process, or class of industries, operations, or processes, may be carried out or not, subject to certain safeguards.
  • Besides to Rule 5(1) of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 stipulates that the central government has the authority to ban or restrict the location of industries and the conduct of certain operations or processes based on specified factors.
  • The government has declared No Development Zones based on the same grounds (NDZs).

Recent SC judgment that has caused an uproar in Kerala

  • Recently, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court heard a PIL which sought to protect forest lands in the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu, but was later expanded to cover the entire country.
  • In its judgment, the court while referring to the 2011 guidelines as “reasonable”, as reported by Live Law, directed all states to have a mandatory 1-km ESZ from the demarcated boundaries of every protected forest land, national park and wildlife sanctuary.
  • It also stated that no new permanent structure or mining will be permitted within the ESZ.
  • If the existing ESZ goes beyond 1-km buffer zone or if any statutory instrument prescribes a higher limit, then such extended boundary shall prevail, the court, as per the Live Law report, said.

Why are people protesting against it?

  • Protests erupted across the high ranges of Kerala in response to the apex court’s directions.
  • Due to the high density of human population near the notified protected areas, farmer’s groups and political parties have been demanding that all human settlements be exempt from the ESZ ruling.
  • Before the SC judgment, the Kerala state government had stated during an expert committee meeting of the Union Environment Ministry in March that all human settlements should be excluded from the buffer zones.
  • The Kerala state government had proposed that for some national parks, such as the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, the extent of the ESZ area should be reduced from the proposed uniform 1-km, to an ESZ ranging from zero to 1 km in the eastern and south-eastern side of the national park.
  • This was because the villagers occupying the densely populated settlements in these areas believed that the ESZ would restrict their agricultural and related activities.
Have similar protests taken place before in Kerala?
  • This is not the first time that Kerala has faced such protests.
  • In 2013, hartals first erupted in Idukki and Wayanad after the Kasturirangan committee report recommended that 60,000 km of the Western Ghats, covering 12 of Kerala’s 14 districts, be notified as ecologically sensitive areas.
    • Similar protests had taken place in Karnataka as well.

-Source: Indian Express

December 2023