The Supreme Court directed that every protected forest, national park and wildlife sanctuary across the country should have a mandatory eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of a minimum one km starting from their demarcated boundaries.
What did the Court say?
- The State also has to act as a trustee for the benefit of the general public in relation to the natural resources so that sustainable development could be achieved in the long term.
- The court held that in case any national park or protected forest already has a buffer zone extending beyond one km, that would prevail.
- In case the question of the extent of buffer zone was pending a statutory decision, then the court’s direction to maintain the one-km safety zone would be applicable until a final decision is arrived at under the law.
- The court has also directed each State and the Union Territory to make a list of subsisting structures within the ESZs and submit reports to the apex court in three months.
What are ‘Eco-sensitive zones’?
- Eco-Sensitive Zone means the fragile area that exists within 10 kilometres of protected areas like National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.
- The width of the ESZ and type of regulation may vary from protected area to area.
- However, as a general principle, the width of the ESZ could go up to 10 kms around the protected area.
- The purpose of marking an Eco-Sensitive Zone is to create a kind of shock-absorber around the protected areas.
- The ESZ around protected areas are declared by the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
Prohibited activities –
- Commercial mining,
- Stone quarrying,
- Crushing units,
- Tourism activities like flying over protected areas in an aircraft or hot air balloon,
- Setting up industries that cause pollution,
- Establishment of hydro-electric projects,
- Commercial use of firewood,
- Solid waste disposal or wastewater disposal, etc.
Permitted activities –
- Ongoing agriculture and horticulture practices by local communities,
- Rainwater harvesting,
- Organic farming,
- Adoption of green technology and
- Use of renewable energy sources.
Significance of ESZ –
- The basic aim is to regulate certain activities around National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries so as to minimise the negative impacts of such activities on the fragile ecosystem encompassing the protected areas.
- These areas act as “shock absorbers” to the protected areas by regulating and managing the activities around such areas.
- These zones act as a transition zone from areas of high protection to those involving lesser protection.
- These areas help in minimising man-animal conflict.
- The protected areas are based on the core and buffer model of management, through which local area communities are also protected and benefitted.