Govt. apply for an exemption for human habitats and agricultural land from the ESZ
The Cabinet said on Wednesday it would urge the Empowered Central Committee (CEC) and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to secure an exemption from the Supreme Court order imposing an Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) which prohibits practically human activity and development. within one kilometer of wildlife reserves and national parks.
The government has requested the exclusion of human settlements, agricultural land, government and quasi-government offices and utilities from the ESZ.
Forestry Minister AK Saseendran clarified that the state government order of 2019 proposing a buffer zone of 1 km around the perimeter of the forests has now lost its relevance. The Forestry Department will soon issue a notification in this regard. He will also explore legal options for circumventing the order.
The state’s forest cover constituted nearly 30% of its geographic extent. Additionally, much of the state’s population lives in localities adjoining ecologically sensitive forests and wetlands. There are 23 such protected areas in the state.
Opposition leader VD Satheesan described the Cabinet statement as a victory for the United Democratic Front (UDF). He said the Oommen Chandy government in 2013 exempted agricultural lands and population centers from the ESZ. Nevertheless, the first Pinarayi Vijayan government reversed the decision in 2019 by proposing a one kilometer buffer zone around the perimeter of the forests.
Mr Satheesan said the myopic attitude of the Democratic Left Front paved the way for the Supreme Court order imposing a one-kilometre buffer zone around the forests. The LDF government’s ‘indecision’ over circumventing the Supreme Court directive had thrown hundreds of thousands of families, especially settler farmers, destined to live near forests for sustenance into the abyss of the uncertainty. This had precipitated some statewide unrest, with Idukki and Wayanad becoming hotspots of resistance in the ESZ.
Mr Satheesan said by contrast, neighboring Tamil Nadu had requested full exemption from the ESZ. He said the Supreme Court emphasized that states can make their case for or against the ESZ or its dilution by invoking the public interest through the CEC or the MoEF.
Mr Sathesan claimed the government changed its controversial 2019 decree under pressure from the UDF. “Better late than never,” he said.
Earlier, the government challenged Mr Satheesan’s claim in the Assembly. Mr Saseendran had claimed that the LDF had reduced the UDF’s ill-considered decision to impose ESZs ranging from 1 to 12 km.