The Supreme Court on March 16, 2023, indicated that it may relax restrictions imposed on development activities in the Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZ) spread over a one-kilometre radius of protected areas (PA) such as national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
A bench of Justices BR Gavai, Vikram Nath and Sanjay Karol made the observation while reserving its order on applications seeking modification of its June 2022 order. The court, on June 3 last year, had declared all places within a kilometre (km) around PAs as ESZs.
Legal news portal Live Law reported that Justice BR Gavai’s oral observation in the reserved judgment read:
Prima facie, we are inclined to allow the petition seeking this modification
Justice Gavai, however, added that the mining restrictions in the ESZ area will not be lifted if there is a change order.
Live Law website added that Justice Gavai also said:
Whatever is banned will remain banned and whatever is regulated will remain regulated. However, when there is no direct human-wildlife conflict, a complete ban on construction cannot be imposed.
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing in the court on behalf of the Centre, said in her argument that a one-size-fits-all approach cannot be adopted here.
“Restrictions in buffer zones across the country would pose several practical difficulties. This should be done on a site by site basis,” she added.
The Centre also urged the court to amend two key conditions, Live Law reported:
- A rule requiring ongoing non-prohibited activities to be continued only subject to the sanction of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest.
- A rule prohibiting the construction of any new permanent structures ‘for whatsoever purpose’ within the ESZ.
Amicus curiae K Parameshwar said this was a violation of the rights of forest dwellers and tribals, promised to them under The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.
He cited the predominantly tribal Sulthan Bathrey municipal body in Kerala. The area is in the buffer zone of a protected area. This meant that all new construction activities were prohibited, and for continuing an already ongoing project, residents would have to first seek permission from the competent authority, Live Law quoted Parameshwar as saying.
He, however, added that there should not be complete exemption for all notifications.
The advocate appearing for Kerala said in his argument that nearly a third of the state was covered by forests. Kerala is densely-populated and most of its people live close to forest areas. In such a situation, the ban will create a lot of difficulties for them.
The bench will give its verdict on this matter on March 24.
SC order on eco-sensitive zone has no scientific basis, case-to-case ESZ needed, say experts
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