SC order on eco-sensitive zone creates unrest in Kerala's high range

The LDF government has decided to file a modification petition before the SC and meet the prime minister to apprise him of the implications.
SC order on eco-sensitive zone creates unrest in Kerala's high range

KOCHI: The Supreme Court order on June 3 directing the government to create a one-kilometre eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) around all wildlife sanctuaries and national parks has triggered widespread protests in the high ranges of Kerala with farmers and the Church raising anguish over its implications. Kerala has been witnessing hartal for the past one week in the high ranges.

The LDF government has decided to file a modification petition before the SC and meet the prime minister to apprise him of the implications. While environmentalists welcome the judgment, farmers demand that ESZ should be decided on a case-to-case basis considering population density and topographical features. The sentiments of local residents need to be addressed. However, there is also a misinformation campaign that has created unrest among the farmers. There is speculation that it is a move to evict the farmers from their land without paying compensation.

Refuting the rumours, head of forest force (HoFF) Bennichen Thomas told TNIE there will be no steps to upset the farmers’ livelihood. “Only quarrying, red category polluting industries and major hydroelectric projects will be prohibited. There exists a default 10km ESZ around the forest areas now. Has any farmer been affected? The ESZ has been mooted under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, which talks about protection of human environment. The Union ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) has issued a draft notification declaring ESZ around all 24 wildlife sanctuaries in Kerala and we have submitted suggestions to redraw the zone avoiding human habitations. The negotiations are on and there will be a consensus,” he said.

However, Kerala Independent Farmers Association (KIFA) chairman Alex Ozhukayil, who spearheads the campaign, said declaration of ESZ will bring restrictions on commercial farming, which is the livelihood of the farmers. Only habitat-friendly cultivation will be allowed and there will be restrictions on cutting down trees. Besides, the forest department will not allow erecting solar fencing around the farmlands. With no barriers, the wild animals will destroy the crops and farmers will be forced to migrate. “It is a plan to evict the farmers from forest fringe areas without giving compensation,” he alleged.

The state government should cancel the cabinet decision taken on October 31, 2019 that decided to impose a one-kilometre ESZ around protected areas before approaching the SC with a modification petition, said Alex. “The state government has not issued the final notification as per the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, regarding the 24 wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in Kerala. To issue the final notification they have to settle the claims of settlers in the forest providing compensation. There are private estates in protected forests in Kerala. In these circumstances, the government should redraw and shift the forest boundary one kilometre inside the protected area which will help to save the human habitations,” he said.

There is no need to panic and livelihood of farmers will not be affected, said Kerala Agricultural University wildlife science department dean P O Nameer.“The SC order only directs to impose the existing restrictions and that will not affect the livelihood of farmers” he said. The Indian Farmers’ Movement (Infam) has decided to form a people’s committee in the high ranges to resist the declaration of ESZ.

Guidelines on activities

1. Mining Remarks: No prohibition on digging of earth for construction of houses or manufacture of tile and bricks for personal use
2. Setting up of sawmills
3. Setting up of industries causing pollution
4. Commercial use of firewood
5. Establishment of major hydroelectric projects
6. Use or production of hazardous substances
7. Activities related to tourism like flying over the national parks by aircraft, hot air balloons
8. Discharge of effluent and solid waste in natural water bodies or terrestrial area

1. Rainwater harvesting
2. Ongoing agriculture and horticulture practices by local communities
Remarks: Excessive expansion of some of these activities will be regulated
3. Organic farming

Regulated activities
1. Felling of trees
Remarks: With appropriate authority's nod
2. Establishment of hotels and resorts
Remarks: As per master plan which takes care of habitat & allows wild animal movement
3. Drastic change in agricultural system
4. Commercial use of water resources
5. Erection of electric cables
Remarks: Promote underground cabling
6. Fencing of hotels and lodge premises
7. Use of polythene bags by shopkeepers
8. Widening of roads
Remarks: With proper environmental impact assessment and mitigation measures
9. Movement of vehicular traffic at night
10. Introduction of exotic species
11. Protection of hill slopes and river banks
12. Air and vehicular pollution
13. Sign boards and hoardings

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