A Balancing Act: Relaxation of Directions for Eco-Sensitive Zones in India

Posted On - 9 January, 2024 • By - Sakshi Gupta


In a significant move, the Supreme Court of India has recently relaxed its directions concerning Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs) across the country. ESZs are critical areas that play a pivotal role in conserving biodiversity, protecting fragile ecosystems, and ensuring sustainable development. The Supreme Court’s decision marks a delicate balance between environmental conservation and the need for development, reflecting a nuanced approach to the complexities of managing these sensitive zones.


The concept of Eco-Sensitive Zones was introduced in India as a proactive measure to protect ecologically fragile areas surrounding national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. These zones act as a buffer, shielding the core areas from potentially harmful activities that could disturb the delicate balance of the ecosystem. However, the strict regulations governing ESZs have often been a point of contention between environmentalists and proponents of development.

The Relaxation:

The Supreme Court’s decision (Verdict dated 26th April 2023) allowed IA Applications, wherein the directions are issued by the Supreme Court, stating to relax the directions concerning ESZs after a careful review of the existing policies and their impact on various stakeholders. The court acknowledges the need for development projects, especially in a growing economy like India, but it also emphasizes the importance of striking a balance to ensure that environmental conservation is not compromised. Activities within a kilometre of SEZ extension can continue with the permission of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests of each state and Union Territory. It is essential to note that such permission must be obtained within six months of such practice. The Supreme Court has also set a boundary by prohibiting the construction of any new permanent structures, regardless of their purpose.

One of the key aspects of the relaxation is the recognition that development projects within ESZs will now be subject to a case-by-case evaluation rather than a blanket ban. This approach allows for a more nuanced consideration of the specific circumstances surrounding each project, taking into account factors such as the potential impact on the environment, local communities, and the overall ecological balance.

Balancing Conservation and Development:

The relaxation of ESZ regulations underscores the judiciary’s recognition of the complex challenges faced by a developing nation like India. While the country is committed to environmental conservation, it also recognizes the need for infrastructural development to meet the growing demands of its population. Striking a balance between these two imperatives is crucial for sustainable development.

The Supreme Court’s decision encourages a more participatory and consultative approach, involving all stakeholders in the decision-making process. This includes local communities, environmental experts, and government bodies. Such a collaborative approach ensures that the concerns of all parties are taken into consideration, promoting a holistic and sustainable development model.

Challenges and Opportunities:

While the relaxation of ESZ regulations opens the door for more flexibility in development projects, it also poses challenges. There is a risk that this flexibility could be exploited, leading to unregulated and environmentally harmful activities. Therefore, stringent monitoring mechanisms and transparent processes must be in place to ensure that the relaxed regulations are not misused.

On the positive side, the relaxation offers an opportunity for innovative and eco-friendly development practices. By integrating environmental considerations into the planning and execution of projects, India can showcase sustainable development models that prioritize both economic growth and ecological preservation.


The Supreme Court’s decision to relax directions concerning Eco-Sensitive Zones in India represents a significant step towards finding a balance between environmental conservation and developmental imperatives. It reflects an evolving understanding of the challenges faced by a rapidly developing nation and underscores the importance of adaptive, context-specific approaches to environmental governance. Moving forward, it is essential to implement the relaxed regulations judiciously, ensuring that the delicate equilibrium between conservation and development is maintained for the benefit of both present and future generations.


Supreme Court, Union of India & Ors., filed I.A. No. 131377 of 2022 in the Writ Petition (Civil) No.202 of 1995 (T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad vs. Union of India & Ors.)