KOCHI: The Supreme Court order directing to make one km ecosensitive zone (ESZ) mandatory for all wildlife sanctuaries and national parks has caused concern in the state as development and livelihood activities in villages located around protected forests will be affected. According to Kerala Independent Farmers Association (KIFA) chairman Alex Ozhukayil, around 20 towns and one lakh families will be affected.
Meanwhile wildlife conservation activists welcomed the judgment pointing out that eco-sensitive areas need to be protected as they are vulnerable to even mild disturbance. “There are 24 wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in Kerala and providing one km ecosensitive zone around all these forests will make around 2.5 lakh acres of human habitations no development zone.
The ESZ guidelines should be implemented considering local conditions. The population density at the national level is 360 people per sq km while it is 860 people per sq km in Kerala. The implementation of the order will affect the livelihood of around 1 lakh families,” said Alex Ozhukayil. The office of Forest Minister A K Saseendran said the state will explore options to convince the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) about the situation in Kerala. “Almost all states will be affected and all states may approach the Centre to find a solution.
We will try to implead in the case and if the court allows to maintain the present situation, there will not be any problem. The new order will restrict construction of hotels, and commercial establishments. The order does not say anything about the sanctuaries for which notification has been issued,” said an officer at the forest minister’s office. The court has made the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) and thehome secretary of each state responsible for proper compliance of the order. The PCCFs have been directed to make a list of subsisting structures within the respective ESZs and submit a report before the court within a period of three months.
“We will try to add a report on the local conditions and the need to provide relaxation to the state,” said an officer. The order says that the minimum width of the ESZ can be diluted in overwhelming public interest but for that purpose the state should approach the Central-empowered committee and MoEF. These bodies should give their recommendations to the court.
“The ESZ will reduce man - animal conflict. The restrictions are already in force in forest fringe areas and the order will not affect the livelihood of farmers. The farmers will have to obtain permission from the forest department for constructing residential buildings. Only commercial establishments and quarrying will be banned,” said former additional principal chief conservator of forests O P Kaler. “The order will have an impact in districts like Idukki and Wayanad where many towns are located close to the forest boundary. However, the Supreme Court order is a welcome directive as the eco-sensitive zone will provide a buffer zone to reduce man - animal conflicts.,” said biodiversity scientist Dr P S Easa.