Can’t have complete ban on development within eco-sensitive zones: SC

ByAbraham Thomas
Mar 17, 2023 10:38 AM IST

The court made the observation while reserving its order on applications seeking modification of its order in June last year directing protected forests to have ESZs of a minimum of one kilometre

There cannot be a complete ban on development within the eco-sensitive zones (ESZs) around wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, the Supreme Court has said. The court made the observation on Thursday while reserving its order on applications seeking modification of its order in June last year directing protected forests to have ESZs of a minimum of one kilometre.

The Supreme Court. (PTI)
The Supreme Court. (PTI)

The order prevented new construction in ESzs. It also impacted the Kerala high court building, which is located within 200 metres of the Mangalavanam Bird Sanctuary.

A bench of justices BR Gavai, Vikram Nath, and Sanjay Karol said it was prima facie inclined to modify the order. “If this judgment is to be implemented, the principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) in every state will be left with no other work but to entertain requests from individual villagers for the erection of permanent structures. They clearly do not have this wherewithal,” the bench said.

It added there cannot be a complete ban on construction either. The bench noted union environment, forests and climate change ministry’s February 2011 ESZ guidelines lay down the activities prohibited and those permitted under strict regulation.

The guidelines banned commercial mining in ESZs but allowed eco-tourism, the establishment of hotels and resorts, etc.

The Union government argued millions live in ESZs. It said the court’s directions last year will have ramifications on the lives of local communities living around national parks and sanctuaries, and ecological development works.

Additional solicitor general Aishwarya Bhati said due to the restrictions on construction, the development of schools, hospitals, and dispensaries has suffered. She added the government will follow the 2011 guidelines in terms of the proscribed and permitted activities within the buffer zones.

Advocate K Parmeshwar, who is assisting the court as amicus curiae, said the order required modification due to the complete ban imposed on construction. He referred to the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act and added it allows forest dwellers to undertake constructions for their basic amenities. “This law becomes otiose due to the ban on construction as most of them live in ESZs.”

The Kerala government told the court that forests account for nearly 30% of the state’s area. It cited the state’s population density and added much of its land was occupied and that the court’s order posed practical difficulties for Kerala.

Senior advocate Jaideep Gupta, who appeared for Kerala, said too many people’s lives are involved. He said significant areas of Sultan Bathery will come under the ESZ due to its proximity to the Wayanad sanctuary.

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