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Kerala to Exclude Residential from ESZ; Conveys its Decision to SC and Centre

The Supreme Court ruled on a batch of applications filed in response to a pending PIL (public interest litigation) from 1995, which raised two sets of issues, the first of which concerned mining activities in and around Jamua Ramgarh, a wildlife sanctuary in Rajasthan.

Shivam Dwivedi
Kerala State Forest Minister A K Saseendran
Kerala State Forest Minister A K Saseendran

The Kerala government on Monday said that it had informed the Centre, the Supreme Court, and the Central Empowered Committee of its decision to exclude or exempt residential and agricultural areas, as well as government, semi-government, and public institutions, from the one-kilometer wide eco-sensitive zone (ESZ).

The submission was made in the assembly by state Forest Minister A K Saseendran in response to a question from the Congress-led UDF opposition about the steps taken to exclude residential and agricultural areas from the ESZ.

According to Saseendran, the Cabinet decided to exclude such areas on July 27 and that decision was communicated to the Central government and the committee for inclusion in the final notification on the ESZ. He stated that the Cabinet decided to approve the Forest Department's proposal to exclude such areas, agricultural land, and various public institutions from the ESZ after receiving objections to a Central government draft notification that included residential areas around 23 wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in the state.

According to him, the proposal from the Forest and Wildlife Department has also been forwarded to the Centre. The government has also filed a review petition with the Supreme Court, asking it to reconsider its June 3 order to create a one-kilometer buffer zone around all wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, he said.

The opposition, on the other hand, warned that if the state government does not set aside or withdraw its earlier decision on buffer zones from 2019, and instead issues a new one in accordance with the Cabinet decision of July 27, it will face legal challenges in the Supreme Court and before the empowered committee. According to the opposition, a 2019 Cabinet decision in principle decided on a 1 kilometer wide buffer zone.

The state assembly's Leader of Opposition (LoP), V D Satheesan, stated that the 2019 order is still in effect, and thus the apex court and the empowered committee will not consider the state's plea. As a result, he said, the 2019 order should be replaced with a new one in accordance with the July 27 Cabinet decision.

Saseendran and state Law Minister P Rajeeve both said there was no need to do so. On June 3, the Supreme Court ordered that each protected forest, including national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, have an ESZ of one kilometre and prohibited mining activities within such parks across the country.

The Supreme Court ruled on a batch of applications filed in response to a pending PIL (public interest litigation) from 1995, which raised two sets of issues, the first of which concerned mining activities in and around Jamua Ramgarh, a wildlife sanctuary in Rajasthan. The second set of issues concerned the establishment of ESZs around wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.

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