Judgment of the Supreme Court regarding eco sensitive zones around national parks and sanctuaries, 26/04/2023
Judgment of the Supreme Court in the matter of In Re: T N Godavarman Thirumulpad Vs Union of India & Others dated 26/04/2023.
The Union of India had filed the application seeking modification/clarification of the order passed by the SC, June 3, 2022 (IA No 1000 of 2003 in WP (C) No 202 of 1995). The applicant (Union of India) was specifically seeking modification of the directions contained in paragraphs 56.1 and 56.5 of the order.
The clarification/modification of paragraph 56.1 of the order was sought to the extent that the eco-sensitive zones (ESZ) which have already been notified by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) or the proposals for which have been received in the MoEF&CC be exempted from the directions therein.
The applicant also sought modification to the extent that paragraph 56.1 of the order should not be made applicable where national parks and wildlife sanctuaries are located along inter-state boundaries or common boundaries. It was submitted on behalf of the applicant that the government of India had already issued guidelines, February 9, 2011 for declaration of ESZs around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. The said guidelines provide a detailed procedure for submitting a proposal for declaration of the areas around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries as ESZs. It was further submitted that the said guidelines itself contain various activities which have been categorized as prohibited, regulated and permitted.
Further, the directions as contained in paragraph 56.5 of the SC order (June 3, 2022) can cause "great hardship" to the citizens residing in the ESZs. Also, the direction that no new permanent structure should be permitted to come up for whatsoever purpose within the ESZs would also cause great hardship.
"There cannot be a uniform boundary for all the National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries," the Union of India informed the court.
The Supreme Court, April 26, 2023 directed modification in paragraph 56.1 and said that the directions contained therein would not be applicable to the ESZs in respect of which a draft and final notification has been issued by the MoEF&CC and in respect of the proposals which have been received by the ministry.
Further the directions contained in paragraph 56.1 of the June 3, 2022 order would not be applicable where the national parks and sanctuaries are located either on inter-state borders or share common boundaries.
The SC also modified the directions contained in paragraph 56.4 of the order and directed that mining within the national park and wildlife sanctuary and within an area of the one kilometre from the boundary of such national park and wildlife sanctuary would not be permissible.
The apex court also modified the directions contained in paragraph 56.5 of the order (June 3, 2022) and directed it to be replaced with the following direction:
1. The MoEF&CC and all the state/Union Territory governments should strictly follow the provisions in the guidelines, February 9, 2011 and also the provisions contained in the ESZz notifications pertaining to the respective protected area with regard to prohibited, regulated and permissible activities
2. The SC directed that while granting environmental and forest clearances for project activities in ESZ and other areas outside the protected areas, the Union of India as well as the various state/Union Territory governments should strictly follow the provisions contained in the office memorandum dated May 17, 2022 issued by MoEF&CC.
The contexted paragraphs of the Supreme Court order, June 3, 2022 were the following:
56.1. 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 proscribed and prescribed in the Guidelines of 9-2-2011 shall be strictly adhered to. For Jamua Ramgarh Wildlife Sanctuary, it shall be 500 m so far as subsisting activities are concerned.
56.5. 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 9-2-2011 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.