Did UPA government recommend a 10-km buffer zone? How did discussion on ESZ start?

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Thiruvananthapuram: As the LDF and UDF continue to accuse each other of ‘cheating people’ over the Supreme Court order on Eco-Sensitive Zones, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan trained his guns at Congress on Monday recalling a 2011 guideline on buffer zones.

'The guidelines for declaration of Eco-Sensitive Zones around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries', released on February 9, 2011 by the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, had proposed a 10-km buffer zone surrounding protected forests in the country.

Pinarayi said that if his LDF government had not sent a proposal to the union government to set ESZ range from 0 to 1 km based on its populated area, there would have been buffer zones of 10 km around national parks and sanctuaries as suggested by the UPA government.

Earlier, Mathrubhumi had reported that the state cabinet in 2019 had recommended a buzzer zone up to 1 km.

However, Kerala opposition leader VD Satheesan said that Congress did not recommend a 10-km buffer zone and the party stands for zero km ESZ.

CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan had said that former union forest minister Jairam Ramesh was behind the move.

According to Kodiyeri, when Jairam Ramesh came out with the concept of buffer zone, as per his directions, the then UDF government had constituted a commission to examine whether it could be implemented in the southern State. The commission, which also comprised Congress leader VD Satheesan, had recommended that a 10-km wide buffer zone can be put in place around wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, he had said.

Jairam Ramesh was very vocal regarding implementing the Gadgil committee report on Western Ghats and building buffer zones. However, the idea of a 10-km buffer zone did not originate in the regime of UPA government. Neither was it the idea of Jairam Ramesh. A 2002 meeting of 'Wildlife Conservation Strategy-2002' envisaged the idea of buffer zones as "eco fragile areas." The union government asked the wildlife wardens of the states to furnish the details of such areas falling under the category. Several states objected to it.

Then, the wildlife board in 2005 decided that the delineation would have to be site-specific and relate to the regulation of specific activities.

Simultaneously, the SC was also intervening on the matter. The present verdict is on a public interest litigation that was filed back in 1995. Another case was also filed in 2004 by Goa Foundation.

The said 2011 guideline, while allowing flexibility, stated that "as a general principle, the width of eco-sensitive zone could go upto 10 kms."

The Supreme Court order on June 3, 2022 which recommending a buffer zone of 1 km range, has upheld the 2011 guidelines as 'reasonable' and added two more restrictions to ESZs to the existing ones in the said guideline.

The SC order triggered widespread protests in Kerala. LDF and UDF are leading their own protests. The attack on Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi's office in Kalpetta was over his alleged inaction in the matter.

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