A 2019 order by the Kerala government that declared the area of up to a kilometre along protected forests—including human settlements—as ecologically sensitive zones was being amended, source said.
The order, issued in the wake of natural calamities, did not exempt human habitats in the area from being included in the ecologically sensitive zone (ESZ), and had led to some public resentment.
The order also posed a hindrance to the state’s decision to approach the Supreme Court seeking relaxation in the court’s June directive—to declare as ESZs area of up to a kilometre around all protected forests, wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.
Hence, the state cabinet on Wednesday decided to amend its 2019 order by giving exemptions to human settlements and agriculture activities.
The order, passed in 2019 by the previous term of the CPM-led Left Democratic Front government, caused much embarrassment in the recent past. While the Supreme Court’s June ruling on declaring ESZs triggered protests from those living close to the forest areas, the CPM and Congress also supported their cause.
However, the Congress later accused the CPM of double standards, citing the government’s 2019 order that declared the area of a kilometre around boundaries of forests, including human settlements, as buffer zones.
The state assembly, later, unanimously passed a resolution to seek relaxations in the Supreme Court’s recent directive, and the state government also held talks with the centre. Legal experts, however, pointed out that as the 2019 order issued by the state government about buffer zones was still in place, it could affect the state’s relaxation plea.
Hence, the state cabinet decided to amend the 2019 order by giving exemption to human settlement and agriculture activities in the one-kilometre ESZ.
Kerala’s high population density, large extents of forests, and proximity of national parks to major cities and towns could be the reasons cited by the state government to seek exemption in the Supreme Court’s June order.