Left govt's adamant stand on ESZ will create climate refugees: UDF

VD Satheesan. Photo:ANI

Thiruvananthapuram: The opposition UDF on Thursday alleged that "wrong decisions" and the "adamant stand" of the Left government in the Eco Sensitive Zone issue would create "environmental refugees" in the high ranges of Kerala and urged it to withdraw a three-year old cabinet decision to protect the southern state's interests in the Supreme Court when it considers the review petition in the buffer zone case.

Accusing the government of making the ESZ issue complex, the opposition said if the cabinet decision of 2019, which had in-principle resolved that there should be a one-km wide buffer zone, was not withdrawn, the state would face a setback in the apex court.

It also urged the government to conduct a comprehensive manual survey with the cooperation of various departments including Revenue, Agriculture and LSGD instead of just Forest officials and submit a report at the apex court as part of the review petition.

However, Law Minister P Rajeeve rejected the UDF's demand to withdraw the earlier cabinet decision saying that the Supreme Court verdict was not based on that particular order and the government had already issued another notification excluding inhabited areas completely from the ESZs.

The objective of the government is to get all the inhabited areas exempted from the ESZs and the government issued a notification in this regard and submitted the same before the Centre, he said.

"Kerala is the only state which has completed the remote sensing survey and submitted the review petition," the minister said.

It was for the second time that the Congress-led opposition was raising the ESZ issue during zero hour in the ongoing session of the Assembly.

Seeking a discussion on the issue, Congress legislator Mathew Kuzhalnadan charged that it was the CPI(M)-led LDF government which had made 0-1 km area as buffer zone against the previous UDF ministry's decision to exclude the entire populated area from the demarcation.

If there was any sincerity in their claims that they would protect the inhabited areas, would they have decided like this, he asked.

Leader of Opposition in the Assembly V D Satheesan further alleged that the government has portrayed settlers of high ranges as encroachers in the petition.

It was said in the review petition that those who encroached the forests were given the "pattayam" (title deed) and the remark would be a blow to the farmers of the region and would adversely impact the prospects of the case, he charged.

The SC verdict would adversely affect 20 towns in the state's high ranges, he said.

"The government is yet to withdraw the cabinet decision of 2019. The latest order in this regard lacks clarity. It should be made clear in the petition that due to the intense protest by the local people, the government's earlier stand was changed. That political will is not reflected in the state's review petition," Satheesan said.

He also claimed that the opposition would never mix politics in people's issues and would always stand to protect the collective interests of the southern state.

The government was not willing to withdraw the earlier cabinet decision due to its 'adamant stand', 'false pride' and ego, he alleged.

The wrong decisions of the government would create 'environmental refugees' in the Western Ghats region, he said, adding that handling of the issue without seriousness was against the interests of local people and farmers.

The opposition members later staged a walkout as Speaker M B Rajesh rejected leave for the motion considering the minister's reply.

The Kerala government, last week, had made it clear that its decision to exclude or exempt residential and agricultural areas as well as government, semi-government and public institutions from the one-km wide eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) has been communicated to the Centre.

The apex court on June 3 had directed that each protected forest, including national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, must have an ESZ of one km and banned mining activities within such parks across the nation.

The top court's direction came on a batch of applications filed on a pending PIL (public interest litigation) 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.


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