SC voices surprise over reduction in eco-sensitive zone radius

[] The Supreme Court has expressed surprise over the centre’s decision, to reduce the radius of eco-sensitive zones from 10 kms to 100 metres, saying that such a move could destroy national parks and wildlife sanctuaries

The Supreme Court, while hearing a case challenging the environmental clearance given to an industrial unit located within the 10-kilometre radius of Dadra and Nagar Haveli Wildlife Sanctuary, noted that “It is extremely surprising that the 10-kms eco-sensitive zone has been reduced by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) to 100 metres. Since an order of this nature is capable of destroying national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the country, we would like to examine the validity of this reduction,” a bench of justices MB Lokur and Deepak Gupta said.

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“Prima facie, it appears to us, a complete arbitrary exercise of power by the Ministry of Environment and Forest,” it said. The bench tagged the case with another pending matter related to environmental issues, which is listed for hearing on September 18, 2017. It questioned additional solicitor general ANS Nandkarni, appearing for the centre, as to whether the government wants to destroy wildlife, reserved forests, rivers and sanctuaries in the country. “You (centre) have to satisfy us, on the point as to how you intend to protect the wildlife and environment. Has the concept of ‘protected areas’ become irrelevant now?” the bench asked.

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The Wildlife Board of India had, in 2002, adopted the Wildlife Conservation Strategy, under which it was stated that land falling within a 10-km radius of the boundaries of the national parks/wildlife sanctuaries, should be notified as Eco-Fragile Zones, under the provisions of the Environmental Protection Act. The apex court had endorsed the stand of the centre, earmarking a 10-km radius as buffer zone, around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. However, since 2015, the MoEF, by several notifications, has reduced the buffer zone radius from 10 kms to upto 100 metres.

The National Green Tribunal, in 2013, had banned construction and halted 49 residential projects being built within a 10-km radius of Okhla Bird Sanctuary. It had also pulled up the Noida Authority and the MoEF, for their failure to take action against the violators.

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