Why is Kerala protesting Supreme Court’s ESZ notification

Source: The post is based on the article “Why is Kerala protesting the Supreme Court’s ESZ notification” published in The Hindu on 15th July 2022.

What is the News?

Kerala State Assembly has passed a resolution urging the Central government to exclude the State’s human habitations, farmlands and public institutions from the purview of the Ecologically Sensitive Zones(ESZ) recently notified by the Supreme Court to be set up around all protected forests in the country.

The Kerala Assembly has also called upon the Centre to notify the zones by considering the state government’s proposals that marked the ESZ as zero around 10 protected areas of the State.

What is the Supreme Court order on ESZ?

The SC in its order has said national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and such protected forests must have an ESZ of a minimum 1 km from their boundaries.

Click Here to read more about the order

Why is Kerala worried about this SC order?

Kerala is worried about the possible impact of the SCs order on its unique landscape as nearly 30% of Kerala is forested land and the Western Ghats occupies 48% of the State. 

Moreover, there is a network of lakes and canals and wetlands and a 590-kilometres-long coastline which are all governed by a series of environmental conservation and protection legislations.

This leaves little space for its 3.5 crore population with an average population density of 900 persons per square km (much higher than the national average).

What were the State’s earlier efforts to draft ESZ notification?

Earlier, while preparing the draft ESZ notifications for its protected areas, the State Government had taken care to exclude the areas with high population density, government and quasi-government institutions and public institutions from the ambit of the notification.

However, the apex court’s recent order has forced the State government to re-look at the ESZs of at least 10 protected areas which were earlier marked as zero.

What has been the people’s reaction to this SC order?

The Supreme court order comes a decade after Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) report, aka the Gadgil report. Against this report, widespread protests happened across the state.

Similarly, this order is being opposed by groups on the ground that the order will upset the lives of thousands of settler farmers and people living on the forest fringes.

They apprehend that the order will effectively turn four lakh acres around the 23 wildlife sanctuaries in the State into buffer zones thus hitting around 1.5 lakh families.

What has Kerala decided to do now?

The Kerala government has decided to approach the Central Empowered Committee, as directed by the SC in its order in order to persuade the forum of the importance of maintaining zero ESZ in human habitation areas.

It may also petition the SC to be exempted from the one-km ESZ regime and to limit it to zero wherever possible.

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