Eco-Sensitive Zones

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    In News

    • Recently, the Kerala State Assembly passed a resolution regarding Supreme Court’s directive regarding Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ).
    • The state of Karnataka is also opposing the Centre’s draft eco-sensitive area norms for the Western Ghats.

    More about the news

    • Kerala:
      • The resolution passed by Kerala urged the Central government to exclude the State’s human habitations, farmlands and public institutions from the purview of the Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ).
      • The Assembly also called upon the Centre to notify the zones by considering the State government’s proposals that marked the ESZ as zero around 10 protected areas of the State, urging the union government to enact laws for the purpose.
    • Karnataka:
      • The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) had issued a draft notification that demarcated large parts of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra as eco-sensitive areas. 
      • Among these states, Karnataka contains the lion share of the notified areas in the Western Ghats, at 20,668 sq km.

    The Court order

    • The Supreme court has directed all states to have a mandatory 1-km ESZ from the demarcated boundaries of every protected forest land, national park and wildlife sanctuary.
    • It also stated that no new permanent structure or mining will be permitted within the ESZ.
      • The order will not affect farming
      • Guidelines list the activities prohibited in an ESZ, such as commercial mining, saw mills, commercial use of wood, etc., apart from regulated activities like the felling of trees.
    • If the existing ESZ goes beyond a 1-km buffer zone or if any statutory instrument prescribes a higher limit, then such extended boundary shall prevail.
    • It held the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Home Secretaries of States responsible for compliance of the judgment.

    New draft notification for the Western Ghats

    • About:
      • The draft notification demarcates 46,832 sq km in the five states Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa and Tamil Nadu as Eco-Sensitive Areas (ESA) in the Western Ghats.
      • According to the notification, the concerned state governments are responsible for monitoring and enforcing the provisions of the notification.
    • Restrictions:
      • The draft notification states there shall be a complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining in the ESA. 
      • All existing mines are to be phased out within five years from the date of issue of the final notification or on the expiry of the existing mining lease. 
      • It also bars the setting up of new thermal power projects and expansion of existing plants in the sensitive area. 
      • Order bans all new ‘Red’ category industries
        • These are activities that have a Pollution Index score of 60 and above, such as petrochemical manufacturing, and coal liquefaction. 
      • The construction of new townships and area development projects will also be prohibited in the areas.
    • Activities that are not restricted:
      • All existing health care establishments shall continue in ESA and so will new hydropower projects on the basis of the Environmental Impact Assessment notification.
      • ‘Orange’ category industries, with a pollution index score of 41-59, such as jute processing and ‘White’ industries that are considered non-polluting, like chalk making, will also“be allowed with strict compliance of environmental regulation.

    Issues around Eco-Sensitive Zones

    • Concerns of Kerala: 
      • Nearly 30% of Kerala is forested land and the Western Ghats occupies 48% of the State. 
      • Moreover, there is a network of lakes and canals and wetlands and a 590-kilometers-long coastline, which are all governed by a series of environmental conservation and protection legislations.
      • This leaves little space for its 3.5 crore population to occupy. 
      • With an average population density of 900 persons per square kilometre, much higher than the national average, the demographic pressure on the available land is unusually high in the State.
      • The State Government apprehends that the ESZs may worsen the ground situation.
    • Settlements around protected areas:
      • One km area around a PA is likely to have low-income housing colonies, historical monuments and livelihood use areas like river floodplains.
        • In case of Kerala, there is the presence of a high density of human population near the notified protected areas.
    • Topographical differences:
      • There are several habitat types like mountains, grasslands, forests, oceans. But the order does not mention that.
        • In case of Sundarbans, the whole area is eco-sensitive. It is difficult to enforce a 1 km boundary in marine space which is interconnected.
      • The destruction of nature in the name of development cannot be allowed to continue.
    • Doubts on the methods used:
      • The order is criticised for not using a scientific basis for the declaration.

    Significance of Eco Sensitive Zone (ESZ)

    • Conservation:
      • ESZs help in in-situ conservation, which deals with the conservation of an endangered species in its natural habitat. 
        • For example, the conservation of the One-horned Rhino of Kaziranga National Park, Assam.
      • They minimize forest depletion and man-animal conflict
    • Buffer zone:
      • The protected areas are based on the core and buffer model of management, through which local area communities are also protected and benefitted.
      • ESZs are created as “shock absorbers” for the protected areas, to minimize the negative impact on the “fragile ecosystems” by certain human activities taking place nearby. 
      • These areas are meant to act as a transition zone from areas requiring higher protection to those requiring lesser protection.
    • Mitigating climate change:
      • Biodiversity and climate change are interconnected. The creation of SEZs may help in reducing the rise in temperature.
    • Significance of Recent Judgement:
      • It can lead to more sustainable development.
      • Tribal rights will also be protected with the recent judgment i.e., their culture, diversity etc will be preserved.

    Way Ahead

    • It is important to consider ESZs on a case-to-case basis instead of giving the same limit for all the protected areas.
    • The declaration of protected areas should be a participatory planning process.
    • The Centre needs to come up with a plan to incentivise farmers for sticking to green practices in Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs).
    • Communities living around Protected Areas in several states should promote the conservation of Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs).
    • There is a need for rethinking on the impacts of the environmental policies at the local level and prospects of local participation.

    Protected Areas of India:

    • Protected areas are those in which human occupation or at least the exploitation of resources is limited. 
    • The definition that has been widely accepted across regional and global frameworks has been provided by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in its categorization guidelines for protected areas. 
    • There are several kinds of protected areas, which vary by level of protection depending on the enabling laws of each country or the regulations of the international organisations involved. 
    • The term “protected area” also includes:
      • Marine Protected Areas, the boundaries of which will include some area of ocean, and 
      • Transboundary Protected Areas that overlap multiple countries which remove the borders inside the area for conservation and economic purposes. 

    Source: TH