Amid protests, Kerala to seek amendment of Supreme Court directive on environmentally sensitive areas
The Kerala government decided on Thursday to file a petition for variation with the Supreme Court as part of its June 3 order that all protected forest tracts and wildlife sanctuaries in the country should have ecologically sensitive areas within one kilometer of their limits.
The government’s decision comes amid growing protests in the hilly regions of the Western Ghats demanding that all human settlements be exempted from the proposed rule on environmentally sensitive areas. The issue was raised last week after the student wing of the ruling CPM, SFI, vandalized Congressman Rahul Gandhi’s office in Wayanad to protest “his inaction” to allay people’s fears over the matter. .
After a high-level meeting convened by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to discuss the issue, an official communication from his office said the Advocate General had been instructed to consider whether the state could legislate in this regard to circumvent the direction of the Supreme Court.
The government has decided to convey the state’s concerns to the central government as well as to the Empowered Central Committee. Details of existing civic infrastructure and construction activities in environmentally sensitive areas will be provided to the Supreme Court. In addition, a draft notification requesting that human settlements be exempted from the scope of the rule of ecologically sensitive areas will be submitted to the Centre.
Since the Supreme Court issued its order, farmers in Kerala have been protesting to demand that human settlements be exempted from the proposed buffer zone rule. As Kerala has 24 wildlife sanctuaries, the proposal to have buffer zones one kilometer from the boundaries of protected forests has raised concern among thousands of people living in these areas.
On Thursday, the opposition blamed the CPM for the current crisis on the buffer zone rule. Opposition leader VD Satheesan said the government failed to inform the Supreme Court of the state’s concerns. The Congress-led government of Oommen Chandy had decided to avoid all human settlements in ecologically sensitive areas, he said, adding that the Left Democratic Front government had decided in 2019 to create buffer zones. one kilometer from the limits of the protected forests. Had the government decided to avoid settlements in the buffer zone, the state would not have faced the current situation, Satheesan said after the opposition left the assembly.
A delegation from the Council of Catholic Bishops of Kerala has met with the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, urging them to intervene to allay the fears of the people.