Supreme Court of India | Photo: Mathrubhumi
Thiruvananthapuram: A high-level meeting chaired by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Thursday decided to move the Supreme Court seeking to modify its recent verdict to create a one-km eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) around all wildlife sanctuaries and national parks. On a day the state Assembly witnessed the Opposition protest over the issue, the Chief Minister also directed the Advocate General to look into possibilities of bringing in a legislation in the House to address the concern of the people living in such areas.
The CM has authorised the Advocate General to file the modification petition and to look into the legislative possibilities for the state to address the issue, a CMO statement said. The top court had, on June 3, pronounced the verdict to create a one-km eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) around all wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, which is generally considered to affect normal life of people living in the high range areas of the southern State for decades.
The Apex Court decision has triggered intense protests in high ranges of the State. The meeting attended by Forest Minister A K Saseendran, Chief Secretary V P Joy, Advocate General Goapalakrishna Kurup and top officials of the Forest Department further decided to submit the state government's notification proposal requesting to redefine the ESZ, excluding populated areas to the Central Empowered Committee within a week.
The state government had earlier submitted the proposal to the central government. The meeting also appointed a high-power committee comprising the forest minister, chief secretary and top forest officials to take up the matter with the Centre.
Earlier in the day, the Opposition UDF staged a walkout in the state Assembly, accusing the Pinarayi Vijayan government of being responsible for the Supreme Court verdict on ESZ. Denying the charges, the government said a letter has already been sent to the Centre requesting to file a review petition at the apex court. Though the Opposition members raised the issue during the Zero Hour and demanded to discuss it after halting other businesses, considering its seriousness, the government did not pay heed, prompting the protest and walkout. Before the walkout, the House witnessed heated arguments between the UDF and LDF members. Replying to a notice for the motion, Forest Minister A K Saseendran said the government was viewing the matter, affecting the populated areas of high ranges, with utmost seriousness.
The Advocate General has been entrusted with the task of taking further steps to submit a review petition against the judgement and convince the Centre, its empowered committee and the apex court about the peculiar circumstances existing in the State's high ranges, he said.
The state government has already written to the union government in this regard, he said adding that the AG was also directed to take steps to request the Centre to get a nod for the proposals in connection with the eco-sensitive zones pending under their consideration after bringing it before the Supreme Court.
"The government will do all possible things to resolve the concerns of the people living in the high ranges. The opposition allegation that the LDF government's decision in 2019 to demarcate 0-1 km surrounding the protected forest areas as buffer zone has led to the present apex court verdict, is absolutely wrong," he told the House.
He said it was the previous Congress-UDF government under the then Chief Minister Oommen Chandy that had decided to set 0-12 km around the protected areas as eco-sensitive zones in 2013 and the Vijayan government, which came to power after that, actually reduced the area upto one km. However, Opposition leader V D Satheesan rejected the charges and said the Chandy government had actually studied the issue in detail and submitted a proposal to the Centre in 2015 to exempt the human settlements located near the protected forests.
Besides giving an in-principle nod to declare upto one-km area around the protected forests as buffer zone, the Vijayan government also had set aside the Chandy government's proposals to exempt the human settlements. "The Union Minister for Environment and Forests also informed the court that Kerala is in favour of the buffer zone.
Actually, it was your (Vijayan government's) order that has been pronounced as verdict by the Supreme Court. It was against this same verdict that you recently held hartals in Wayanad and Idukki," he said. Noting that people are eagerly awaiting the decision taken by the Assembly on the buffer zone issue, Satheesan also said the government should demand to exempt settlement areas from the buffer zone limit at least now.
As Speaker M B Rajesh rejected leave for the motion based on the Minister's reply, the Opposition staged the walkout. The high range areas of Kerala, particularly areas in Idukki, Wayanad, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts, had been witnessing hartals by various political and farmers' groups against the apex court order delivered on June 3. Issuing a slew of directions, a Bench headed by Justice L Nageswara Rao had on June 3 ordered that no permanent structure would be allowed within such ESZs and said if the local law or other rules provide for an ESZ of more than one km, then the earlier provision would continue to apply. The top court order came on a batch of applications filed on a pending PIL of 1995 and they raised two sets of issues with the first one related to mining activities in and around Jamwa Ramgarh, a wildlife sanctuary in Rajasthan. The second set of issues was related to prescribing ESZs surrounding the wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.