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Eco-sensitive zones

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change's National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016) mandates that land within 10 kilometers of the borders of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries be designated as eco-fragile zones or eco-sensitive zones (ESZ). If areas exceeding 10 km contain bigger ecologically significant "sensitive corridors," the Union government may additionally declare those areas to be ESZs. They serve as "shock absorbers" for the protected regions, reducing the harm that some surrounding human activities can do to the "fragile ecosystems."

These regions also serve as a transition between those places that need more protection and those that need less protection. ESZs are designed to protect protected areas and "refine the ecosystem around them," not to interfere with local residents' daily lives. Aside from approved operations like tree felling, forbidden activities include commercial mining, sawmills, and the use of wood for commercial purposes. Rainwater gathering, organic farming, and other ongoing agricultural or horticultural techniques are examples of permitted activities. The hill district has seen participation from a range of social groups in open forums, protests, and door-to-door campaigns against the buffer zone rule.

The management of the ESZs is fraught with the following major difficulties:

  • All human settlements should be exempt from the ESZ judgment, according to farmer's groups and political parties, given the dense human population around the notified protected areas.

  • Farmers who live close to protected areas are becoming afraid because they believe that the ESZ demarcation will make farming impossible and that they may eventually be forced off of their land.

  • For hundreds of farmers in the area who have successfully established their lives and towns on the edges of forests while battling bad weather and wild animals, the ESZ demarcation maneuver became an emotional matter.

  • Faulty According to the KSRSEC report, the survey's goal was to move people away from the edges of the forest so that the State's forest cover could grow.

  • The visual interpretation process is hampered by the thick and dense canopy, which makes it difficult to identify all of the still-existing buildings and roadways.

  • Following the publication of the aerial survey report, the price of land has significantly decreased.

  • Due to the asset value of their property, landowners are concerned that this will have an impact on their plans.

  • This might have an impact on rural kids' desire for higher education.

  • Farmers already have to deal with wild animal assaults and declining agricultural produce prices.

There are three ESZ Activities Permitted. First is Prohibited activities - commercial wood consumption, sawmills, industries that pollute the environment (air, water, soil, noise, etc.), and the construction of large hydroelectric projects (HEP). Activities are related to tourism such as hot air balloon flights over a national park, the release of effluents or any solid waste, or the manufacture of hazardous materials. Next is Regulated Activities - Cutting down trees, building hotels and resorts, using natural water for commercial purposes, erecting electrical lines, drastically altering the agriculture system, such as by using heavy machinery, insecticides, etc., and widening highways. And lastly Permitted ones - current agricultural or horticultural methods, the use of renewable energy sources, organic farming, and the application of green technology for all activities are permitted activities.

Experts recommend the following measures to address the problems described above:

  • Identifying the remaining structures by means of a scientific investigation in accordance with the guidelines established by the Supreme Court.

  • Kerala planned to exclude habitations and settlements from the scope of the buffer zone using cadastral maps and the current land use/land cover pattern of the border-sharing villages from satellite data on the GIS platform.

  • Taking advantage of the apex court's proposal that an ESZ may be diluted in the overwhelming public interest, an aerial survey report is used to highlight the population density and the presence of human habitation in the zone.

  • The Central Empowered Committee (CEC) and the Ministry of Environment should be persuaded on this by the State governments, as the Supreme Court has stated that the minimum width of the ESZ may be reduced in the public interest.

  • establishing help desks for the physical verification of the holdings and villages covered by the zone in the panchayats of the State that are subject to the ESZ regime.

  • For field verification, the Kerala government appointed an expert team led by a former Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court.


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