Protest grows in Kerala against SC directive on ESZs
Protest is mounting in the hilly regions of Kerala against the Supreme Court’s ruling last week that every protected forest tract and wildlife sanctuary must have an Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ) one kilometer from its boundaries.
Idukki District observed a dawn-to-dusk hartal on Friday, called by the ruling CPI(M), seeking intervention from the Union Government on the Supreme Court directive. The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) also called for a June 16 hartal in the district, which had seen a series of protests in 2013-2014 against the recommendations of the Kasturangan committee report on the Western Ghats.
In Wayanad district, various political parties, farmers’ groups and business organizations have staged protests in the coming weeks. On Friday, CPI(M) and Congress are holding separate protest marches in Wayanad.
Political parties and farmer groups in Kerala demanded that all human settlements be exempted from ESZ. The new directive came at a time when the hilly regions of the state have witnessed an unprecedented upsurge in wildlife attacks.
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Last Friday, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court ordered all states to leave a mandatory ecologically sensitive zone one kilometer from the boundaries of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and other protected forest lands. The tribunal was considering a public interest litigation for the protection of Nilgiris forest lands in Tamil Nadu. Later, the scope of the petition was expanded to protect these natural resources nationwide.
Kerala Forest Minister AK Saseendran said the state wants all human settlements to be excluded from the scope of the ESZ.
“In Kerala, there are 24 wildlife sanctuaries. The Supreme Court order came at a time when we have already submitted to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change our proposals on the SEZ of 20 sanctuaries, completely excluding human habitats from the buffer zone. If the court’s directive is implemented, it would impact farmers in the mountainous regions of the state. Also, we have to start the ESZ demarcation process again,” he said.
After a high-level meeting, Saseendran said the state government would file a petition for review in the Supreme Court. The state would explore a suggestion in the supreme court order, which stated that “the minimum width of the ESZ may be diluted in the overriding public interest, but to that end, the state or union territory concerned should contact the Empowered Central Committee and the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change”.
Kerala Independent Farmers Association (KIFA) chairman Alex Ozhukayil said the court’s verdict would have far-reaching consequences. “The total extent of wildlife sanctuaries in Kerala is eight lakh acres. If one kilometer of SEZs are demarcated from their boundaries, around 4 lakh acres of human settlements including agricultural land would come under this purview. simple matter of survival of hundreds of thousands of people,” he said.