Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday said that if his LDF government had not sent a proposal to the Centre that an eco sensitive zone (ESZ) should have a range of 0 to 1 km based on its populated area, there would have been buffer zones of 10 km around national parks and sanctuaries as suggested by the UPA government at the Centre in 2011.
Vijayan’s statement came in response to queries by reporters on the ESZ issue which has resulted in hartals and protests in the high-range areas of Kerala, particularly in the districts of Idukki, Wayanad, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta, by various political and farmers’ groups. He said the State government was consulting the advocate-general on the possibility of filing a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a review of its June 3 direction that no permanent structure would be allowed within such ESZs and that if the local law or other rules provide for an ESZ of more than one km then the earlier provision would continue to apply. It is in this context that the Chief Minister said if the State government had in 2020 not proposed having a 0-1 km ESZ, the earlier suggestion of UPA government to have a 10 km buffer zone would have been applicable in the State. He said that in 2013, the then UDF government in the State had submitted a proposal to declare 88.210 sq km area in Wayanad as an ESZ.
Vijayan further said that besides exploring the option of litigation, the State has also written to the Centre to find a solution and discussions between them were on. He assured that all steps would be taken to allay the concerns of the people and to protect their rights. The Chief Minister said it is the State government stand that populated areas have to be avoided from the purview of ESZs. On Sunday, CPI(M) State secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan had claimed that it was in 2011 that then Union Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh came out with the concept of buffer zone and as per his directions the then UDF government had constituted a commission to examine whether it could be implemented in the southern State. Thereafter, the commission, which also comprised Congress leader V D Satheesan, had recommended that a 10-km wide buffer zone can be put in place around wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, he had said.
Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the State Assembly Satheesan, on the other hand, claimed that a 2019 Cabinet meeting headed by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had in-principle decided that there should be a one-km wide buffer zone. Balakrishnan had also said that in 2020 and later in 2021, the State Forest department had moved a proposal before the Centre to exempt agricultural land and dwelling places from such buffer or eco-sensitive zones.
The Supreme Court had recently issued a direction that each protected forest, including national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, must have an ESZ of one km and banned mining activities within such parks across the nation. The top court came on a batch of applications filed on a pending PIL (public interest litigation) of 1995 and they raised two sets of issues with the first one related to mining activities in and around Jamua Ramgarh, a wildlife sanctuary, in Rajasthan. The second set of issues was related to prescribing ESZs surrounding the wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.