SC’s Modified Judgment on Eco-sensitive Zones


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    • The Supreme Court has recently modified its judgment to have mandatory eco-sensitive zones (ESZ) around protected forests.

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    • The previous judgment of SC: 
      • On June 3, 2022, the apex court had ordered the 1-km buffer zone for protected areas to act as a “shock absorber”.
      • Its judgment was to have mandatory eco-sensitive zones (ESZ) of a minimum one kilometre around protected forests, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the country.
    • Issue:
      • However, the Centre and several States, including Kerala, had returned to the apex court seeking modification of the June 2022 judgment, saying the judicial direction affected hundreds of villages in the peripheries of forests.
    • Apex court’s opinion:
      • Agreeing, the court said “the purpose of declaring ESZs is not to hamper the day-to-day activities of the citizens. If the direction as issued is continued, it would certainly hamper the day-to-day activities of the citizens residing in ESZs. As such, we find that the direction needs to be modified”.
      • Modified judgment: 
        • SC Bench reasoned that ESZ cannot be uniform across the country and has to be “protected area-specific”.
        • The court said a stringent observance of the June 2022 judgment would cause more harm than good. For one, man-animal conflict would only increase rather than abate.

    Eco Sensitive Zone (ESZ)

    • The Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) are areas in India notified by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), GoI around Protected Areas, National Park and Wildlife sanctuaries
    • Range:
      • All identified areas around Protected Areas and wildlife corridors to be declared as ecologically fragile under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (National Wildlife Action Plan, 2002-2016).
      • Eco-sensitive zones could go up to 10 Kms around Protected Areas
      • In cases where sensitive corridors, connectivity and ecologically important patches, crucial for landscape linkage, are even beyond 10 Kms width. 
      • Further, Eco-sensitive zones may not be uniform all around and it could be variable in width and extent.
    • Prohibited activities: 
      • Activities like industries that cause pollution Commercial mining, saw mills, establishment of major hydroelectric projects (HEP), commercial use of wood, Tourism, discharge of effluents or any solid waste or production of hazardous substances are all prohibited.
    • Regulated activities:
      • Activities like felling of trees, establishment of hotels and resorts, commercial use of natural water, erection of electrical cables, drastic change of agriculture system, e.g. adoption of heavy technology, pesticides etc., widening of roads.
    • Permitted activities:
      • Activities like ongoing agricultural or horticultural practices, rainwater harvesting, organic farming, use of renewable energy sources, adoption of green technology for all activities are permitted.

    Significance of Eco Sensitive Zone (ESZ)

    • Conservation:
      • ESZs help in in-situ conservation, which deals with 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. Creation of Eco Sensitive Zone (ESZ)s may help in reducing the rise in temperature.
    • Significance of Recent Judgment:
      • 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.


    • Doubts on the methods used:
      • The order is criticised for not using a scientific basis for the declaration.
      • According to experts, an ESZ should only be declared evolved through participatory planning exercises. 
    • Settlements around protected areas:
      • One km area around PA is likely to have low-income housing colonies, historical monuments and livelihood use areas like river floodplains.
        • In the case of Kerala, there is 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 that is interconnected.
      • The destruction of nature in the name of development cannot be allowed to continue.

    Way Ahead

    • 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).

    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: IE