The Supreme Court on Friday said each protected forest – either national park or wildlife sanctuary – must have an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of minimum one kilometre, where no permission should be given ti mining and other commercial activities as it made clear that mining in such areas will not be allowed.
A bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao, B R Gavai, and Aniruddha Bose said: “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 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, it added.
The bench said it is of the opinion that a minimum width of one kilometre ESZ ought to be maintained in respect of the protected forests, which forms part of the recommendations of the CEC in relation to Category B protected forests.
“If such a 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 bench said the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests as also the Home Secretary of each state/Union Territory would remain responsible for proper compliance of the guidelines as regards nature of use within the ESZ of all national parks and sanctuaries. “Mining within the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries shall not be permitted,” it said.
It said the role of the state cannot be confined to that of a facilitator or generator of economic activities for immediate upliftment of the fortunes. “The state also has to act as a trustee for the benefit of the general public in relation to the natural resources so that sustainable development can be achieved in the long term. Such a role is more relevant today, than, possibly, at any point of time in history with the threat of climate catastrophe resulting from global warming looming large,” said the bench.
“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 as ESZ, as indicated in the order passed by this court on December 4, 2006 in the case of Goa Foundation (supra) and also contained in the Guidelines of 9th February 2011 shall be implemented.”
The bench added that within that area, the entire set of restrictions concerning an ESZ shall operate till a final decision in that regard is arrived at.
The Centre had contended no consensus could be reached in connection with notifying the areas within 10 km of the boundaries of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries as ESZ.
The bench said: “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 before this Court.”
The top court judgment came on issues connected with the mining activities in and around Jamua Ramgarh wildlife sanctuary in Rajasthan.