The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Centre to declare "at the earliest" 10 km area around 21 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the country as Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) to protect wild birds and animals.
The areas close to national parks and wildlife sanctuaries are notified as ESZ by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) notifies, with an aim to create "shock absorbers" for the protected animals and birds, by regulating and managing the activities there. It can direct that certain industries and operations are not carried out, or subjected to safeguards, in ESZs.
The bench, comprising Justices Madan B Lokur, Deepak Gupta and Hemant Gupta, was informed that there were 662 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the country, and state governments and Union territory administrations have not even moved any proposal to the Centre for declaring ESZ in 21 such areas.
"Under the circumstances, we direct that an area of 10 Kms (kilometres) around these 21 National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries be declared as Eco-Sensitive Zone by the MoEF. The declaration be made by the MoEF at the earliest," the bench noted in its order.
"Liberty is granted to the state governments to move an application for modification of this order along with proposal only two weeks after submission of the proposals to the MoEF."
The 21 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries - without ESZ declaration - are in Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
Additional Solicitor General ANS Nadkarni, appearing for the Centre, told the top court that there are 662 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the country.
"The proposals for declaring areas around these National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries as Eco Sensitive Zone have been received from state governments/UT Administrations for 641 National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries," he said, adding: "No proposals have been received in respect of 21 National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries."
The law officer also said the Centre has accepted and notified Eco-Sensitive Zones for 289 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, as of November 26 this year, and draft notifications for 206 are ready.
"We expect the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to actively pursue the preparation of the draft Notification and to issue a final Notification at the earliest," the bench ordered.
Some prominent national parks and wildlife sanctuaries without operational ESZs include Pobitora Sanctuary of Assam, Hemis High Altitude National Park and Kishtewar National Park of Jammu and Kashmir, Jogimatti Sanctuary of Karnataka, Deolgaon Rehekuri Sanctuary of Maharashtra, Siroi National Park of Manipur, Baghmara Pitcher Plant Sanctuary of Meghalaya, Fakim Sanctuary of Nagaland and Pilibhit Sanctuary of Uttar Pradesh.