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SC Modifies 2022 Order on ESZ Around National Parks, Sanctuaries

The Supreme Court on Wednesday modified its 2022 order which directed that each protected forest such as national parks and wildlife sanctuaries must have an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of one kilometre.

The court was hearing a plea filed by the central government contended that if the directions are not modified a severe hardship would be caused to the millions of people living in ESZ.

The government argued that it has already issued guidelines for declaration of ESZs on February 9, 2011, around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries which were framed after consulting the National Board for Wildlife and hence, was seeking the modification of the June 3 last year court order on demarcation of such zones.

A three-judge bench of justices BR Gavai, Vikram Nath and Sanjay Karol, however, held that mining within a national park, a wildlife sanctuary and within an area of one kilometre from their boundary shall not be permissible as it would be hazardous for wildlife.

The 2022 order besides demarcation of ESZ, had also banned mining within such parks and sanctuaries across the nation.

Modifying its last year order, the court said its direction would not be applicable where national parks and sanctuaries are located on inter-state borders and share common boundaries.

The order will also not be applicable to draft and final notifications in respect to national parks and sanctuaries issued by the environment ministry and in respect of the proposals that have been received by the ministry, it said.

It also directed the Centre to give wide publicity be given to the draft notification issued by it so that all persons interested have knowledge about it.

“The direction in paragraph 56.1 of the order dated June 3, 2022, is modified and clarified that the directions contained therein would not be applicable to the ESZs in respect of which a draft and final notification has been issued by the MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forest) and in respect of the proposals which have been received by the ministry,” the bench said.

“We, however, direct the central government that wide publicity should be given to the draft notification…,” it said.

The MoEF and all state and Union Territory governments “shall strictly follow the provisions in the said guidelines dated February 9, 2011, and so also the provisions contained in the ESZs notifications pertaining to the respective protected areas with regard to prohibited activities, regulated activities and permissible activities,” the bench said.

“We further direct that while granting environmental and forest clearances for project activities in ESZ and other areas outside the protected areas, the Union of India, state/Union Territory governments shall strictly follow the provisions contained in the office memorandum dated May 17, 2022, issued by environment ministry,” it said.

Issuing a slew of directions, the apex court last year had said the role of the State cannot be confined to that of a facilitator or generator of economic activities for immediate upliftment of the fortunes of the state.

The apex court had ordered that no permanent structure will be allowed within such ESZ and said if the local law or other rules provide for an ESZ of more than one kilometre, then the earlier provision would continue to apply.

Each protected forest, that is national park or wildlife sanctuary must have an ESZ of a minimum one kilometre measured from the demarcated boundary of such protected forest in which the activities proscribed and prescribed in the Guidelines of February 9, 2011, will be strictly adhered to, it had said.

It had, however, held that for the Jamua Ramgarh wildlife sanctuary of Rajasthan, the ESZ shall be 500 metres so far as subsisting activities are concerned.

The apex court order had come on a batch of applications filed in a pending PIL of 1995 and they raised two sets of issues the first one was related to mining activities in and around the Jamua Ramgarh wildlife sanctuary.

The second set of issues related to prescribing ESZ surrounding the wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.

The top court had also directed the principal chief conservator of forests of each state and Union Territory to make a list of subsisting structures and other relevant details within the ESZs forthwith, and furnish a report within a period of three months.