In pursuance to the case of TN Godavarman Thirumalpad vs Union of India, the Supreme Court bench comprising of Justice L Nageswara Rao, Justice BR Gavai and Justice Aniruddha Bose, conferred and passed its direction on Protected Forests having Eco Sensitive Zone (ESZ).
The Court’s Direction
The Central Empowered Committee (CEC) had passed a report on 20th November 2003, which specifically dealt with Jamua Ramgarh wildlife sanctuary. After being reviewed by the Court, it noted that the said report gave a horrific picture of ravaging of a protected forest mainly by private miners with temporary work permit obtained from the Governmental agencies.
A second report was submitted by the CEC on 20th September 2012. The recommendations made in the second report went beyond the Jamua Ramgarh Sanctuary and dealt with creation of identification and declaration of safety zones around protected forests all across the country.
A set of Guidelines for Declaration of Eco Sensitive Zones (ESZ) around National Park and Wildlife Sanctuaries had been formulated by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) of the Government of India on 9th February 2011. These Guidelines deal with the process and procedures to be adopted for declaring ESZ.
The court held that the guidelines issued on February 9, 2011 are “reasonable” and went ahead to pass the following directions:
- Each protected forest, that is ‘national park’ or ‘wildlife sanctuary’ must have an ESZ of minimum one kilometre measured from the demarcated boundary of such protected forest in which the activities prescribed in the Guidelines of 9th February 2011 shall be strictly adhered to. For Jamua Ramgarh wildlife sanctuary, it shall be 500 metres so far as subsisting activities are concerned.
- In the event, however, the ESZ is already prescribed as per law that goes beyond one kilometre buffer zone, the wider margin as ESZ shall prevail. If such wider buffer zone beyond one kilometre is proposed under any statutory instrument for a particular national park or wildlife sanctuary awaiting final decision in that regard, then till such final decision is taken, the ESZ covering the area beyond one kilometre as proposed shall be maintained.
- The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests as also the Home Secretary of each State and Union Territory shall remain responsible for proper compliance of the said Guidelines as regards nature of use within the ESZ of all national parks and sanctuaries within a particular State or Union Territory. The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests for each State and Union Territory shall also arrange to make a list of subsisting structures and other relevant details within the respective ESZs forthwith and a report shall be furnished before this Court by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests of each State and Union Territory within a period of three months. For this purpose, such authority shall be entitled to take assistance of any governmental agency for satellite imaging or photography using drones.
- Mining within the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries shall not be permitted.
- In the event any activity is already being undertaken within the one kilometre or extended buffer zone (ESZ), as the case may be, of any wildlife sanctuary or national park which does not come within the ambit of prohibited activities as per the 9th February 2011 Guidelines, such activities may continue with permission of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests of each State or Union Territory and the person responsible for such activities in such a situation shall obtain necessary permission within a period of six months. Such permission shall be given once the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests is satisfied that the activities concerned do not come within the prohibited list and were continuing prior to passing of this order in a legitimate manner. No new permanent structure shall be permitted to come up for whatsoever purpose within the ESZ.
- The minimum width of the ESZ may be diluted in overwhelming public interest but for that purpose the State or Union Territory concerned shall approach the CEC and MoEF&CC and both these bodies shall give their respective opinions/recommendations be ore this Court. On that basis, this Court shall pass appropriate order.
- In the event the CEC, MoEF&CC, the Standing Committee of National Board of Wildlife or any other body of persons or individual having special interest in environmental issues consider it necessary for maintaining a wider or larger ESZ in respect of any national park or wildlife sanctuary, such body or individual shall approach the CEC. In such a situation the CEC shall be at liberty to examine the need of a wider ESZ in respect of any national park or wildlife sanctuary in consultation with all the stakeholders including the State or Union Territory concerned, MoEF&CC as also the Standing Committee of National Board of Wildlife and then approach this Court with its recommendations.
- In respect of sanctuaries or national parks for which the proposal of a State or Union Territory has not been given, the 10 kilometres buffer zone ESZ, as indicated in the order passed by this Court on 4th December 2006 in the case of Goa Foundation (supra) and also contained in the Guidelines of 9th February 2011 shall be implemented. Within that area, the entire set of restrictions concerning an ESZ shall operate till a final decision in that regard is arrived at.
The protection of the Forest area and preservation is absolutely necessary, in this case a couple of individuals (miners) along with the State wanted to open up Eco Sensitive Zones and to relax the guidelines given through previous orders and by CEC.
Hence, this case was brought before the Court.
The order was passed on 3rd June, 2022 by the Supreme court to adhere to the guidelines given by the CEC (2011) and to follow its directions which has been given.