Environmental law plays a huge role in protecting the forests, humans, animals and various resources. Eco-sensitive zones are areas around the National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries that would be under the watch of the Government such that the activities conducted there could be monitored. The main objective of regulating these zones is to reduce the negative impact of these developmental activities on the ecosystem. The Ministry of Environment and Forests issued new guidelines on February 9, 2011, to create eco-sensitive zones (ESZs) around the National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries to prevent ecological damage caused. These would also enable various States/ Union Territories to develop specific guidelines applicable to such areas within their states for declaration of ESZ.
Facts of the case-
The present case at hand is an Interlocutory Application filed by the Union of India wherein the parties sought modification/clarification for the order passed by the Supreme Court on 3rd June 2022 in I.A. No. 1000 of 2003 in WP(C) No. 202 of 1995 which relates to the establishment of ESZs around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, as well as the restriction on mining in and around the Jamwa Ramgarh Wildlife Sanctuary. In the order passed by the Supreme Court on 3rd June 2022, it issued certain directives.
The Directives are:
- Mandating each protected forest (such as a national park or wildlife sanctuary) to have an ESZ of a minimum of 1 km measured from the demarcated boundary of such protected forest;
- Prohibiting mining in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries;
- Allowing the activities that were already being undertaken within the 1km or extended ESZ (and which was not prohibited under the ESZ Guidelines) to continue with the permission of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests of each State or Union Territory (to be obtained within six months);
- Prohibiting the construction of new permanent structures within the ESZ for any purpose.
Various State Governments were aggrieved by the judgement and hence, filed the present Interlocutory Application seeking modification/ clarification of the above directions.
- Modification of the directions contained in paragraphs 56.1 and 56.5 of the order dated 3rd June 2022 which mandated every protected forest to have an ESZ of a minimum of 1 km and allowed the activities that were already being undertaken within the 1km or extended ESZ to continue with certain permission.
- Whether the ESZs which have already been notified (final and draft) by the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change or the proposals for which have been received in the Ministry can be exempted from the directions therein.
- Whether paragraph 56.1 of the order should be made applicable where National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries are located along inter-State boundaries and/or common boundaries.
Contentions of the Applicant
- There cannot be a common boundary for all or a particular National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary. It completely depends on the circumstances and can be longer on one side and shorter on the other side, at times.
- The rights of the citizens who are residing in the Protected Areas are settled under the 6 provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. But there is no settlement of rights of citizens residing in ESZs. The citizens residing there already have well-established houses, farming, healthcare etc.
- The guidelines would permanently prohibit certain developmental activities such as construction of National Highways, Railways, Defense related infrastructure, etc.
- The procedure prescribed for obtaining the permission of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests is very tedious.
- The direction as contained in paragraph 56.5 of the order dated 3rd June 2022 (supra) is likely to cause great hardship to the citizens residing in the ESZs.
The court, after considering all the issues and contentions, allowed the application and modified the guidelines. It came up with the opinion that the modifications would not be applicable to the ESZs in respect of which a draft and final notification has been issued by the MoEF and in respect of which proposals have been received by the Ministry. However, they can approach the court if they are aggrieved.
The court gave the judgement that
- The modifications would not be applicable even on national parks and sanctuaries located on inter-state borders and/ or sharing uniform boundaries.
- Mining will not be allowed within the national park, wildlife sanctuary and 1km from the boundary of the national park and wildlife sanctuary.
- MoEF will strictly adhere to the ESZ Guidelines and the respective ESZ notifications with regard to prohibited, regulated and permissible activities.
- The Union of India, as well as various State/ Union Territory Governments, shall strictly follow the provisions contained in the Office Memorandum issued by MoEF while granting environmental and forest clearances to project activities in ESZ and other areas outside the protected areas.
In conclusion, the judgement, in this case, represents a positive step towards safeguarding both the environment and the livelihood of the residents in the vicinity of the National Park and Wildlife Sanctuaries. The revised guidelines serve a dual purpose by preserving the integrity of eco-sensitive zones while still allowing room for necessary developmental activities that benefit the citizens. This balanced approach ensures a harmonious coexistence between conservation efforts and the welfare of the local communities.
 (2022) 10 SCC 544
 Writ Petition (Civil) No. 202 of 1995